PBS Program Examines Impact of Global Economic Crisis on Health Funding
PBS' "News Hour" last week examined the impact of the global financial crisis on funding for health services in developing countries. According to "News Hour," the World Bank is planning to triple the loans it provides in the health sector this year in response to the crisis. Julian Schweitzer -- sector director for health, nutrition and population at the World Bank -- said that $950 million in loans for the health sector was approved in 2008 and that the amount is expected to increase to about $3 billion in 2009. The bank has seen an increase in the number of loan requests and is focusing on countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which are considered to be at an increased risk from the economic crisis. Schweitzer said that in times of economic recession, the health sector "seems to get hit the hardest by budget cuts" and that women's and children's health "are particularly badly hit." Over the past 25 years, an estimated one million children died because of expenditure cuts by governments in response to economic downturns, Schweitzer said, adding that the World Bank is advising countries to focus spending on specific programs, such as nutrition for pregnant women or child immunization.
In addition, the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria recently announced that it is facing a $5 billion funding gap through 2010. There also has been an increase in new funding requests from eligible countries, "News Hour" reports. Andrew Hurst, spokesperson for the group, said the demand for funding is "much higher than we expected, so if we are going to meet that demand, we are going to need more money than what is coming in." The last round of Global Fund grants in December 2008 was reduced by 10%, from $3.1 billion to $2.75 billion, although all program requests were approved. Recipients were asked to achieve the same goals with reduced funding through changes like cuts in overhead costs or finding lower cost options for pharmaceuticals, according to "News Hour."
According to Ruth Levine -- a health economist and vice president for programs and operations at the Center for Global Development -- more than 50% of the total public health spending in some developing countries, such as many in sub-Saharan Africa, come from aid commitments. She added that many of those countries do not have social safety nets to protect people from economic downturns. Levine said, "When national budgets are squeezed because of falling tax revenues and falling donor contributions the social services for the poor are some of the first to be jeopardized." She added that foreign aid in economic recessions "tends to be a pretty easy target" that "doesn't have a very deep constituency -- voters at home don't feel it when it's cut." Levine also said that people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases in developing countries risk seeing their treatments interrupted as a result of funding shortfalls. She said decreases in aid for these programs "affect individuals who are dependent on these resources for lifesaving drugs," adding, "So the stakes are much, much higher than in the past" (Miller, "News Hour," PBS, 2/6).