WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health
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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 63-72

Financing health care in the WHO South-East Asia Region: time for a reset

1 Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice, South Asia, The World Bank, Washington DC, United States of America
2 Department of Health Systems Development, World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia, New Delhi, India
3 Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice, South Asia, the World Bank, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr Ajay Tandon
Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice, South Asia, The World Bank, Washington DC
United States of America
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DOI: 10.4103/2224-3151.309879

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is having a devastating impact and continues to take its toll in the World Health Organization South-East Asia Region. In addition to its direct impact on morbidity and mortality, the pandemic is adversely affecting economic activity as a result of lockdowns and voluntary social distancing. The average per capita economic contraction among South-East Asia Region countries is currently projected to be 5.3% in 2020, suggesting severe consequences for financing for health and sustaining progress towards universal health coverage. Health financing systems in many countries of the region – characterized by extremely low levels of public financing and a predominance of out-of-pocket spending – have contributed to weaknesses in primary health care (PHC), including in relation to pandemic preparedness and containing COVID-19. Without sustained countercyclical public spending and an increased priority for health in government budgets, countries will be likely to see a slowdown or even reversal in growth in public financing for health, which is already at a low level in several countries of the region. In the face of this economic adversity and fiscal tightening, efforts to improve the efficiency and equity of public spending on health will be key, especially for strengthening PHC and enhancing cost-effectiveness in terms of the choice and delivery of interventions. To this end, countries must emphasize the public health focus, improve targeting of public financing towards the poor and vulnerable, reduce fragmentation and duplication of financing flows, leverage strategic purchasing and cut wasteful spending. The COVID-19 pandemic also presents an opportunity to reset how health systems and PHC are prioritized and adequately financed in the countries of the South-East Asia Region, as areas of core public investment that not only contribute to better health outcomes but also are critical for ensuring a sustained economic recovery.

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