Government policies matter when it comes to public health. And when a country’s economy is suffering a severe economic crisis, the decisions become even more critical. Over the past few decades, protecting social programs and spending on health has been a cornerstone of the IMF’s support for countries.
The IMF's latest regional economic outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa shows growth at its lowest level in more than 20 years. In this podcast, the African Department’s new Director, Abebe Aemro Selassie, says it’s a mixed story of struggling oil-exporters and strong performers.
By Jeff Hayden
Strong performance by many African economies over the past two decades led some commentators to coin the term “Africa Rising” to describe the region’s surging economic power.
The term graced the cover of TIME magazine in December 2012, in an issue that chronicled the region’s decades-long journey from economic anemia to impressive vigor. Beginning in the mid-1990s, many—but certainly not all—countries in sub-Saharan Africa energized their economies, achieving in recent years some of the world’s highest growth. Living standards improved as a result, as did health care and other key services, inspiring hope for a bright future.
As the Group of Twenty leaders gather in Turkey this weekend, they will have on their minds heartbreaking images of displaced people fleeing countries gripped by armed conflict and economic distress. The surge of refugees in the last few years has reached levels not seen in decades. And these numbers could increase further in the near future.
The immediate priority must be to help the refugees—who bear the heaviest burden, and too often tragically—with better access to shelter, health care and quality education.
Many of the countries neighboring conflict zones—which have welcomed most of the refugees—have stretched their capacity to absorb people to the limit. To support additional public services for refugees, they will require more financial resources. The international community must play its part. With the IMF’s support, for example, Jordan has been able to adjust its fiscal targets to help meet this need.
Populations are getting older around the world—that’s no surprise in light of declining fertility and improvements in health care. But in many countries, something more dramatic is going on—the population is actually shrinking. These demographic developments portend stark fiscal challenges. What should countries—whatever their degree of economic development—do to respond to these challenges?
The gap between the rich and the poor is at its widest in decades in advanced countries, and inequality is also rising in major emerging markets (Chart 1). It is becoming increasingly clear that these developments have profound economic implications.
As with previous crises, the global financial crisis has prompted greater calls for international policy cooperation, but it still remains very much like Nessie, the lovable Loch Ness monster: oft-discussed, seldom seen. To reflect on the obstacles to international policy cooperation, and how to make progress, the IMF recently hosted a panel discussion, Toward a More Cooperative International Monetary System: Perspectives from the Past, Prospects for the Future, with Maurice Obstfeld (CEA; University of Berkley), José Antonio Ocampo (Columbia University), Alexandre Swoboda (The Graduate Institute, Geneva), and Paul Volcker (Former Chairman, Federal Reserve).
Improvements in health can have a tremendously positive effect on society’s well-being and the level of economic activity. Indeed, 2013’s path-breaking report by the Lancet Commission indicates that about 11 percent of the economic growth in recent decades can be attributed to these improvements. As such, it makes good sense for macroeconomists to pay attention to health indicators and to the factors that influence them, such as public health spending.
In this context, it is not surprising that the impact of IMF-supported programs on public health spending has generated considerable attention. Previous research, focusing on periods before the global financial crisis, indicates that Fund-supported programs have a positive effect on public health spending (Martin and Segura, 2004; Center for Global Development, 2007; Clements, Gupta and Nozaki, 2013). But does this pattern still hold if we extend the analysis to more recent years? In this blog, we take a fresh look at this evidence for developing economies.