Economic Fluctuations, universal health coverage and the health workforce

Parallel Session 5

Venue: TBC

Day and time: Thursday, 27 January 2011 - 15:30-17:30

Economic fluctuations can affect the health sector and its workforce in a variety of ways, and largely depends on government reaction with economic and social protection policies. This session will address health workforce spending, discuss information on aid flows, and evaluate possible ways of moving closer to universal coverage, despite economic fluctuations and changing donor interests.

Economic downturns and upturns can affect the health sector and health workforce in many ways, depending on how governments react with their economic and social protection policies.

During economic downturns, household expenditure on health typically falls because household incomes fall. People sometimes switch from using the private to the government sector as a result. Meanwhile, government revenues also fall, putting pressure on domestic government expenditures and external assistance contributions.

How governments react to economic downturns is a matter of choice - most frequently they reduce overall spending – which includes health - but sometimes health and social welfare is protected. This was observed during the most recent economic crisis when some countries actively sought to protect social sector spending, or increased spending as a way of stimulating economic growth.

Others cut spending, they place an added burden on public-sector health workers who must deal with high, and sometimes an increasing demand, while budgets are being squeezed. An important problem at the moment is in countries that are reliant on external funding for health.

They are facing an uncertain wait to see how the bilateral donors react to the large increases in public debt in their own settings, and to see if the last decade of increasing priority for health in aid budgets will be replaced by other priorities such as climate control, or economic growth.

The objectives of this session are to:

  • Understand how much is currently spent on health and on the health workforce in particular, and how this is influenced by economic fluctuations and government policies;
  • Discuss the latest information on aid flows, to assess if the need to reduce government debt in the OECD countries or changing donor priorities is likely to have an adverse consequences for aid flows for health and for HRH.
  • Evaluate possible ways low- and middle- income countries can continue to move closer to universal coverage despite economic fluctuations and changing donor interests.
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