Protecting Education and Health Spending in Low-Income Countries

By Christine Lagarde

June 6, 2017

Versions in عربي (Arabic), 中文 (Chinese), Français (French) 日本語 (Japanese), Русский (Russian), and Español (Spanish)

Senior class in Nairobi, Kenya. In many countries with IMF-supported programs public spending on education grew significantly faster than the economy of the country (photo: Xinhua/Sipa USA/Newscom)

IMF-supported programs are designed to help economies get back on their feet, but what about their impact on social spending?

Our latest research shows that health and education spending have typically been protected in low-income country programs. In fact, an analysis of more than 25 years of data (1988–2014) suggests that public health spending, as a share of GDP, has on average remained unchanged, while public education spending has increased by 0.32 percentage points.

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Public Spending on Health Care under IMF-Supported Programs

By Sanjeev Gupta and Baoping Shang

Versions in Français (French)

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.

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What Happens to Public Health Spending in IMF-Supported Programs? Another Look

By Benedict Clements, Sanjeev Gupta, and Masahiro Nozaki

(Versions in 中文Français日本語, Русский, and Español)

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.

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The First Wealth

Jeff Hayden altBy Jeff Hayden

"The first wealth is health,” American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1860.­

Emerson’s quote, cited by Harvard economist and health expert David E. Bloom in Finance and Development’s lead article, reminds us that good health is the foundation on which to build—a life, a community, an economy.­

Humanity has made great strides, developing vaccines and medical techniques that allow us to live longer, healthier lives. Other developments—such as increased access to clean water and sanitation—have helped beat back long-standing ills and pave the way for better health.

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When Reality Doesn’t Bite—Misconceptions about the IMF and Social Spending

All too often we hear the claim that the programs the IMF supports in low-income countries hurt the most vulnerable by forcing cuts in social spending. This is a misconception. Our study concludes that, contrary to these claims, IMF-supported programs boost education and health spending in low-income countries for as long as countries are engaged with the IMF.

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