Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance since undergoing intestinal surgery and took the opportunity to back global healthcare coverage.

The 84-year-old spoke from the balcony of his suite at the Gemelli University Hospital in Rome. He stood alongside several sick children in hospital care and spoke about his hospital stay.

On July 4, the Vatican had announced that Pope Francis responded well to the surgery, which was his first significant health challenge as pontiff.

Pope Francis said that “good healthcare should be accessible to all and free," and "why children have to suffer is a question that touches the heart.”

"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," Pope Francis said.

"A health care system that assures good service, [and is] accessible to everyone. This precious benefit must not be lost. It needs to be kept," he said.

As the world continues to battle new variants of COVID-19, Pope Francis also made a plea to "pray for all the sick, especially for those in the most difficult conditions."

The World Health Organization defines universal health care coverage as all people having "access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. It includes the full range of essential health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.”

A December 2017 report from the World Bank and WHO noted that "at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services." In a December 2019 op-ed in the Washington Post, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said they "are both committed to universal health coverage, so that all people can access the health services they need without financial hardship.

Abe and Ghebreyesus also noted that "at least half the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services, including basic sanitation, the ability to see a health worker, or safe, effective and affordable medicines."

The U.S. is the only country in the developed world without universal healthcare coverage.