• Pope Francis delivered a speech from his balcony at Rome's Gemelli hospital - his first appearance since receiving surgery.
  • He was watched by hundreds of people who gathered below as he read his weekly prayer.
  • The pope also spoke out about the importance of universal healthcare for all and was joined by children who are patients at the hospital.

Pope Francis, seeming in good overall condition, appeared in public for the first time since undergoing intestinal surgery and made a plea for free universal healthcare.

The 84-year-old pope, who had part of his colon removed in the surgery, stepped out on the balcony of his suite on the 10th floor of Rome's Gemelli hospital to lead his weekly prayer before hundreds of cheering people below.

He stood for about 10 minutes, reading from a prepared text but also adding many impromptu remarks.

He appeared to be slightly short of breath at times and his voice was occasionally raspy. He had part of one of his lungs removed when he was a young man in his native Argentina.

Hundreds of people gathered in the open space below shouted "Viva il Papa!" (Long Live the Pope) and waved national flags. Doctors and patients stood on other balconies to watch.

"It was a great joy to see the pope again ... his voice was a little shaky but the pope is always the pope and we wanted to be here," said an Italian priest who identified himself as Father Massimiliano.

In the mostly improvised part of his talk, Francis said good healthcare should be accessible to all and free.

"In these days that I have been in hospital, I saw once more how important it is to have a good healthcare system that is accessible to all, as it exists in Italy and in other countries," he said.

"A health service that is free and guarantees good service accessible to all ... This precious good should not be lost. It must be maintained and everyone should be committed to this. Because everyone needs it ...," he said.

Healthcare is a major political issue in the United States, one of the few industrialised countries that does not have universal cover for its citizens.

According to the World Health Organization, universal health coverage means that all have access to health services they need without financial hardship.

Children with the pope

Several children who are patients in the hospital appeared with the pope on the balcony. "Why children have to suffer is (a question) that touches the heart," he said.

It was the first time since his election as pope in 2013 that Francis has not read the Sunday prayer and message from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square, expect for when he was traveling.

Francis criticised managers of Church-run hospitals whose first thought, he said, is to close when economic difficulty hits.

"Your vocation as a Church is not to have money but to be of service, and service is always free," he said in part of his unprepared remarks.

Health and healthcare

How is the World Economic Forum bringing data-driven healthcare to life?

The application of “precision medicine” to save and improve lives relies on good-quality, easily-accessible data on everything from our DNA to lifestyle and environmental factors. The opposite to a one-size-fits-all healthcare system, it has vast, untapped potential to transform the treatment and prediction of rare diseases—and disease in general.

But there is no global governance framework for such data and no common data portal. This is a problem that contributes to the premature deaths of hundreds of millions of rare-disease patients worldwide.

The World Economic Forum’s Breaking Barriers to Health Data Governance initiative is focused on creating, testing and growing a framework to support effective and responsible access – across borders – to sensitive health data for the treatment and diagnosis of rare diseases.

The data will be shared via a “federated data system”: a decentralized approach that allows different institutions to access each other’s data without that data ever leaving the organization it originated from. This is done via an application programming interface and strikes a balance between simply pooling data (posing security concerns) and limiting access completely.

The project is a collaboration between entities in the UK (Genomics England), Australia (Australian Genomics Health Alliance), Canada (Genomics4RD), and the US (Intermountain Healthcare).

Before closing with his traditional final remark of "Have a good lunch and goodbye until we see each other again," Francis appealed for an end to "the spiral of violence" in Haiti, where President Jovenel Moise was assassinated.

The Vatican did not issue a daily medical bulletin on the Sunday of Pope Francis' appearance. It said the pope was continuing a normal recovery, gradually resuming work, walking and eating with aides, and that his blood tests were satisfactory.

Doctors had originally foreseen a seven-day stay in hospital for the pope, but there was no indication when he would be discharged.