MPs Are Urged to Redirect Funding Towards Prevention and Primary Care

The head of the Health Division at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development called on parliamentarians to redirect health funding towards prevention and primary care to help improve health outcomes.

Speaking Monday at the opening session of the UNITE Global Summit in Lisbon, Francesca Colombo said that a basic health analysis proves the need to be focused in this direction.

“Only 3% of total health spending is devoted to tackling poor risk factors and public health measures,” she told a room of more than 30 parliamentarians and other health leaders in the Senate Chamber of the Portuguese Parliament. “Return on investment in tackling unhealthy lifestyles is very high.”

She noted for example that every dollar invested in tackling obesity has a $6 return on investment in economic benefits. Moreover, she said that her organization’s work has shown that three out of four deaths from antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could be averted by spending just a few dollars more – $2 per person.

“While COVID-19 demonstrated that countries with strong health systems and universal health coverage are better prepared to manage health threats, investments in primary care account for less than $1 in every $6 present in health systems,” Colombo stressed.

Finally, she added, too much health spending is at best ineffective and at worst harmful. A 2017 OECD report showed 20% of health expenditures make no or minimal contribution to good health outcomes.

How to address these failings

“The global shortage of healthcare workers must be urgently addressed, including finding equitable solutions to address international health workforce migration,” said Colombo. “The pandemic accelerated the use of digital tools like telehealth and remote diagnostics. Yet more needs to be done to accelerate the equitable development and use of these tools.

“Finding new ways to pay for global public goods, such as vaccines and antimicrobials will be essential to be ready for future crises,” she added.

The OECD has calculated that even in high-income countries an annual investment totalling 1.4% of GDP is needed to make health systems strong enough to meet the challenges of another pandemic on the scale of COVID-19, Colombo said. She expressed concern that finance ministers’ enthusiasm for investing in health is fading away.

Raising parliamentarians’ voices

Ricardo Baptista Leite, president and founder of UNITE Parliamentarians
Ricardo Baptista Leite, president and founder of UNITE Parliamentarians

The UNITE Global Summit is meant to once again raise up parliamentarians’ voices around issues of health and health security.

The event began around 9 a.m. in the Senate Chamber. Although the room is no longer in use, it continues to be harnessed for conferences and its rows of parliamentary chairs lent to the import of the conference on Monday morning.

The theme of the UNITE summit is “from pandemic to prosperity,” a topic that Ricardo Baptista Leite, president and founder of UNITE, said should be “self-explanatory.” But, like Colombo, he said that the discussion is coming at a difficult time – a time when governments want to move beyond the pandemic and are focused on other challenging issues like the Russia-Ukraine war and rising inflation and cost-of-living in their countries.

Leite said that nonetheless, parliamentarians must make their voices heard.

“We are still in a pandemic, still suffering from the results of severe lockdown and the consequences of our lack of preparedness,” he said. “That is why our first day is focused on infection control and pandemic preparedness and response.”

Ilona Kickbusch, founder of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute in Geneva
Ilona Kickbusch, founder of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute in Geneva

Over the next two days, the conference will also look at the future of health systems and health as a human right.

Participants will be charged with answering three questions: What progress have we made so far during the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals period? What have we learned to help us make even more progress by 2030? What is the role of parliamentarians in helping drive that progress?

“Parliamentarians should be at the forefront of the fight,” stressed Professor Ilona Kickbusch, founder of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, who also spoke as part of the introductory session. “Parliamentarians should be the link between their constituents and their governments.”

The UNITE Global Summit runs from Dec. 5-7, 2022. Click here for full coverage.
Reporting for this series was supported by UNITE Parliamentarians for Global Health.

Image Credits: Maayan Hoffman.

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