The world has been turned on its head by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This has provided a stark wakeup call on the severe under-financing of health systems around the world. It has laid bare the inequalities and limitations in the capacities of countries at all levels of development to prevent major health crises or respond to them. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The new WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All recognizes that health and economies are deeply intertwined. Indeed, economic development could improve health and well-being. Leveraging its platform, the Council demands now, more than ever, the need for clear, ambitious goals to catalyze and focus investments and action, and to put priority on financing health as a long-term investment and not a short-term cost.
The Council has written this brief to focus on how to finance Health for All. There are two key dimensions: more finance and better finance. By moving to a new paradigm where health is an investment, governments can overcome internal fiscal limits and transform the relationship between public and private sectors, towards common goals. In other words, increasing financing is not enough: the quality of finance is crucial to delivering Health for All. This mission can be achieved by designing policies to reach Health for All now by realigning finance from all sectors and sources through conditionalities that fuel symbiotic gains in the public interest.
The Council stresses three pathways for action
1) Creation of fiscal space
2) Direction of investment
3) Governance of public and private finance.
For each, this brief proposes specific actions for governments and multilateral organizations. These actions should strengthen health systems to ensure access to lifesaving and life-improving products and services; and to improve robust socioeconomic conditions across sectors that recognize the co-benefits of Health for All from a whole-of-government approach.
The COVID-19 crisis has opened a window for a radical redirection. The Council believes that it is vital to pursue a new paradigm that eliminates macroeconomic policies and assumptions that move us away from Health for All, and instead, find finance that achieves the mission of Health for All. To realize such aims, we must reverse – and expand – our perspective on health and economic development: from pursuing health for the economy, to redesigning the economy for health.