Eran Bendavid, MD, knows there's a lot of debate about whether foreign aid for health care is really making an impact. So he and his colleague, Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, devised a statistical tool to address a basic question: Do investments in health really lead to health improvements?
My colleague Ruthann Richter encapsulated the research in a recent article and blog entry. I followed up in a 1:2:1 podcast with Bendavid, and we started our conversation by talking about the perception that foreign aid is wasted and isn't making significant inroads in changing the health-care trajectory in developing nations. Bendavid told me that the common perception of inefficiency was eroding confidence in foreign aid health care spending, so he decided to test it.
As Richter wrote, the researchers examined both public and private health-aid programs between 1974 and 2010 in 140 countries and found that, contrary to common perceptions about the waste and ineffectiveness of aid, these health-aid grants led to significant improvements with lasting effects over time. As Bendavid told Richter, "If health aid continues to be as effective as it has been, we estimate there will be 364,000 fewer deaths in children under 5. We are talking about $1 billion, which is a relatively small commitment for developed countries."
Why are these dollars making an impact? Bendavid amplified to me what he told Richter: that foreign aid dollars were used effectively, largely because of the targeting of aid to disease priorities where improved technologies - such as new vaccines, insecticide-treated beds for nets for malarial prevention and antiretroviral drugs for HIV - could make a real difference.
Health aid in 1990 accounted for 4 percent of total foreign aid. It now accounts for 15 percent of all aid.
So something to cheer about when it comes to foreign aid. In health-care spending this study confirms it delivers the goods.