Building resilience and sustainable financing for health during COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Join us for the fifth annual Health Financing Forum. The first part will take place virtually from July 7 to 23, 2020. Please register here.

As countries around the world grapple with COVID-19 (coronavirus), including its health and economic consequences, they now face extraordinary healthcare financing challenges. Many countries suddenly increase spending on health services at the same time as their tax revenues fall.

The IMF and the World Bank Group both predict that economic output will fall in most countries in 2020 and that government tax revenues will decline even more. This is in part due to containment strategies such as lockdowns, social distancing, the shutdown of all but essential businesses and travel bans, which have reduced economic activity, international trade and employment.

As countries slowly emerge from blockages, they must determine the best way forward for their health systems and economies in the face of uncertainty. Understanding the resilience of health financing and exploring ways to improve it will be essential for this process, especially if countries are affected by the second or third wave of COVID-19.

Resilience is measured by the extent to which countries are able to adjust their health financing to absorb unpredictable shocks that require sudden increases in health spending as incomes decline. It is linked to the sustainability of health financing, that is, the country’s ability to continue to progress towards longer-term health goals. Without sustainability of health financing, we will not achieve universal health coverage or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Building resilience requires actions in the three main areas of health financing: generating sufficient income or fundraising to adapt to a crisis and achieve longer-term health goals; pooling of funds, which spreads financial risk so that people can get the health services they need without experiencing financial hardship; and ensuring that the right health services are available in the right places and that they are procured or provided in a fair and efficient manner. Building resilience requires a whole-of-government approach.

The Fifth Annual Forum on Health Financing

Faced with COVID-19, how are countries doing on these fronts? The Fifth Annual Forum on Health Financing (AHFF) will take a more in-depth look, focusing on the theme of resilience and sustainability of health financing. Hosted by the World Bank Group, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Global Financing Mechanism (GFF), in collaboration with the Joint Learning Network and other organizations, the forum will take place virtually for the first time, and in two rooms.

The first part, scheduled for July 7-23, 2020, will focus on the resilience of health financing, including actions countries have taken in their responses to the pandemic and lessons learned to date. Part two, scheduled for later this year, will examine the vulnerability and sustainability of health financing in the context of the new normal, and the need to continue making progress towards the SDGs.

The forum brings together experts in public finance and health financing, who will share essential knowledge to help countries emerge from the crisis with more resilient and sustainable health financing. Until there, the evidence on the effectiveness of fiscal and monetary policies and responses to health financing is largely anecdotal, as the pandemic continues to evolve . But if it’s too early to draw firm conclusions, countries can share their experiences on what worked and what didn’t, to help determine more effective response measures.

Emerging knowledge

Provisional lessons are already emerging from COVID-19, which need to be further explored. These are for example:

  • Most countries have transferred money, health workers, hospital beds and drugs from other health services to the COVID-19 response.
  • Few countries have a mechanism in place to decide which existing health services should be maintained at any cost and which can be suspended.
  • National legislation has sometimes not permitted the use of disaster funds for a health emergency, and parliamentary approval of other sources of funding has been slow.

While COVID-19 creates many challenges in health financing, it also provides an opportunity for countries to share approaches and learn from each other to build back better. This will help ensure that our economies and health systems are better prepared for any new health crisis, whether it is a second wave of COVID-19 or another pandemic.

Learn more about the new COVID-19 Health Financing Resilience Program.

Join us for the fifth annual Health Financing Forum. The first part will take place virtually from July 7 to 23, 2020. Please register here.

Jennifer C. Burleigh

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