Development assistance for health: should policy-makers worry about its macroeconomic impact?
Eleonora Cavagnero, Christopher Lane, David B Evans, Guy Carrin
Many low-income countries need to substantially increase expenditure to meet universal coverage goals for essential health services but, because they have very low-incomes, most will be unable to raise adequate funds exclusively from domestic sources in the short to medium term. Increased aid for health will be required. However, there has long been a concern that the rapid arrival of large amounts of foreign exchange in a country could lead to an increase in inflation and loss of international competitiveness, with an adverse impact on exports and economic growth, an economic phenomenon termed ‘Dutch disease’. We review cross-country and country-level empirical studies and propose a simple framework to gauge the extent of macroeconomic risks. Of the 15 low-income countries that are increasing aid-financed health spending, 7 have high macroeconomic risks that may constrain the sustained expansion of spending. These conditions also apply in one-quarter of the 42 countries not presently increasing spending. Health authorities should be aware of the multiple risk factors at play, including factors that are health-sector specific and others that generally are not. They should also realize that there are effective means for mitigating the risk of Dutch disease associated with increasing development assistance for health. International partners also have an important role to play since more sustainable and predictable flows of donor funding will allow more productivity enhancing investment in physical and human capital, which will also contribute to ensuring there are few harmful macroeconomic effects of increases in aid.