A new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows global spending on health has increased standing at 10.3% of the global gross domestic product (GDP).
Dubbed the 2023 Global Health Expenditure Report, it sheds new light on the evolution of global health spending at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and shows that global spending is now estimated at US $9.8 trillion.
According to the report, the distribution of this spending remains grossly unequal whereby public spending increased elsewhere across the world apart from low-income countries where government health spending decreased and they relied for a big part on donor aid.
In 2021, about 11% of the world’s population lived in countries that spent less than US$ 50 per person per year, while the average per capita spending on health was around US$ 4,000 in high-income countries. Low-income countries accounted for only 0.24% of global health expenditure, despite having an 8% share of the world’s population.
The record spending on health in 2021 demonstrated how countries prioritized public health during the pandemic even as economies and societies reeled from the massive disruptions it caused. However, the report also highlights that the scale of growth in public spending on health observed during this period is unlikely to be sustained, as countries shift focus to handle other economic priorities such as slowing growth, high inflation rates, and increased debt servicing obligations associated with rising indebtedness.
Commenting about the report, Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage, Life Course said sustained public financing on health is urgently needed to progress towards universal health coverage.
“It is especially critical at this time when the world is confronted by the climate crisis, conflicts, and other complex emergencies. People’s health and well-being need to be protected by resilient health systems that can also withstand these shocks,” he said.
However, apart from public spending, the report also shows the levels of spending by health service providers from 50 countries. Spending at hospitals, ambulatory care providers, and pharmacies accounted for most health spending across all income groups (65%-84%). While spending by all types of health service providers increased in most countries, more rapid growth was seen in spending by preventive care providers than in other types of providers.
During the pandemic, countries also adjusted their service delivery mechanisms to adapt to the new demands of battling COVID-19 while sustaining essential services. For example, the report shows that more high-income countries started to utilize pharmacies to deliver preventive care services since the pandemic.
When it comes to investment in health, the global health expenditure report shows capital investments increased in all income groups during the pandemic: 40-50% in low- and lower-middle-income countries, and 8-9% in upper-middle and high-income countries.
In low-income countries, there was a surge in machinery and equipment spending, possibly influenced by the lack of essential equipment, such as ventilators and hospital beds, at the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitals received over half of all reported investments in all income groups.
Government spending was also a major driver of the rise in health capital investment. The exception, once again, was low-income countries, where government and donors played a critical complementary role in bolstering investment.