What do we learn from studies on aid allocation to the health sector?

by Karen Rono and Rob Tew


Our report unpacks studies that have been carried out on official development assistance (ODA; commonly known as aid) to the health sector. It identifies the studies that have been carried out, and by whom, and highlights the current gap in evidence. In addition, we map out institutions and online platforms that present aid to the health sector.

Top findings

ODA to health (including both general health, population policies/programmes and reproductive health) more than doubled in real terms between 2005 and 2013 but went down in 2014 due to a drop in disbursements from multilateral bodies. Although total ODA disbursements to health rose in real terms in most years since 2005, the proportion of ODA going to the health sector has remained fairly constant at between 12% and 14% each year since 2007.

Many studies on aid to health seem to be driven by the need to inform global processes and forums such as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. These tend to assess the qualitative side of aid (aid effectiveness). The extent to which these studies have influenced decisions requires more inquiry.

There are many more studies on aid allocation to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and nutrition than there are on other illnesses that are equally prevalent, such as the neglected tropical diseases, or on health subsectors such as human resources for health.

China (a non-DAC donor) appears among the top 10 donors to health in Africa; however the analysis on the volume of the non-DAC funding and its potential to close the health funding gaps (particularly on health infrastructure and systems, which are the sub-sectors that receive less of DAC funding) is disproportionately small.

Access to studies on aid to health is also a key limitation. There exist peer-reviewed studies (which we would regard as high quality) but not all of these are published in journals fully accessible to the public. It is therefore unclear what capacity these studies have for changing the delivery of aid to the health sector.

The regularity of studies on aid analysis could be improved. We find only four institutions producing publications on aid to health annually (these focus on donor funding to nutrition, EU-donor countries, global health aid, and aid to health research and development). We find 16 online portals that present data on health indicators and health aid funding.

Most studies employ only OECD data due to its completeness. We encourage the use of other data sources, such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and in-country online aid portals hosted by recipient countries, such as e-ProMIS in Kenya.

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Homepage image: The third Sustainable Development Goal – ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages