Protecting pro-poor health services during financial crises: Lessons from experience

Pablo Gottret*, Vaibhav Gupta, Susan Sparkes, Ajay Tandon, Valerie Moran, Peter Berman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Objective - This chapter assesses the extent to which previous economic and financial crises had a negative impact on health outcomes and health financing. In addition, we review evidence related to the effectiveness of different policy measures undertaken in past crises to protect access to health services, especially for the poor and vulnerable. The current global crisis is unique both in terms of its scale and origins. Unlike most previous instances, the current crisis has its origins in developed countries, initially the United States, before it spread to middle- and lower-income countries. The current crisis is now affecting almost all countries at all levels of income. This chapter addresses several key questions aimed at helping inform possible policy responses to the current crisis from the perspective of the health sector: What is the nature of the current crisis and in what ways does it differ from previous experiences? What are some of the key lessons from previous crises? How have governments responded previously to protect health from such macroeconomic shocks? How can we improve the likelihood of positive action today? Methodology/approach - The chapter reviews the literature on the impact of financial crises on health outcomes and health expenditures and on the effectiveness of past policy efforts to protect human development during periods of economic downturn. It also presents analysis of household surveys and health expenditure data to track health seeking behavior and out-of-pocket expenditures by households during times of financial crisis. Findings - Evidence from previous crises indicates that health-related impacts during economic downturns can occur through various channels. The impact in households experiencing reductions in employment and income could be manifest in terms of poorer nutritional outcomes and lower levels of utilization of healthcare when needed. Households may become impoverished, reduce needed health services, and experience reductions in consumption as a result of health shocks occurring during a time when their economic vulnerability has increased. Women, children, the poor, and informal sector workers are likely to be most at risk of experiencing negative health-related consequences in a crisis. Real government spending per capita on health care could decline due to reduced revenues, currency devaluations, and potential reductions in external aid flows. Low-income countries with weak fiscal positions are likely to be the most vulnerable. Implications for policy - Past crises can inform policy-making aimed at protecting health outcomes and reducing financial risk from health shocks. Evidence from previous crises indicates that broad-brush strategies that maintained overall levels of government health spending tended not to be successful, failing to protect access to quality health services especially for the poor. It is particularly vital to ensure access to essential health commodities, which in many low-income countries are imported, in the face of weakening exchange rates. Focused efforts to sustain the supply of lower-level basic services, combined with targeted demand-side approaches like conditional cash transfers may be more effective than broader sectoral approaches. Low-income countries may need specific short-term measures to ensure that health outcomes do not suffer.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInnovations in Health System Finance in Developing and Transitional Economies
EditorsDov Chernichovsky, Kara Hanson
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2009

Publication series

NameAdvances in Health Economics and Health Services Research
ISSN (Print)0731-2199


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