The world gathered in Washington DC from 12-17 April 2016 for the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund spring meeting. Importantly, civil society organisations (CSOs) meetings were held parallel to the spring meeting, discussing topics from climate change to health financing.
On 15 April, the African Health Budget Network (AHBN) launched its #ValueOurHealth campaign with a panel ,meeting with a wide variety of stakeholders. This campaign is aimed at improving health budget transparency, participation and accountability so as to ensure more and better spending on health. It is about amplifying African voices for better spending on women and children’s health - a powerful mission that calls for support from various people from a variety of backgrounds.
Investing in health is the smartest investment African countries can make. It has huge returns on investment; it is about investing in people’s development and fulfilling people’s human rights to highest attainable health. It is undisputable that health is the cornerstone of sustainable development.
The #ValueOurHealth campaign strongly believes that health is the foundation of development as made clear at the launch panel discussion. It underscores the need for more investment as well as better spending on health, which reflects the needs of the people.
At the launch of #ValueOurHealth campaign, Options’ health economist Sarah Fox introduced the session, explaining why transparency and public participation is important for ensuring health spending is in line with the priorities of citizens. She also provided an overview of the #ValueOurHealth campaign and how it seeks to increase accountability through transparency and participation.
When asked about how to ensure that participation mechanisms are used effectively by CSOs, Julius Mukunda, Coordinator of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group Uganda, noted that CSOs have to be respectful to government officials, both in terms of the language that they use and observing the appropriate protocol. They also need to be knowledgeable about the subject matter, and they must be solution-focused and not always be seen to be complaining.
Sharing experience from Sierra Leone on increasing public participation, Matthew Dingie, Director of Budgets, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development said that one of the issues they had to deal with was the complexity of the budget documents and that they are not always accessible to citizens. Dingie highlighted the progress that the Government of Sierra Leone has made by publishing a citizens’ budget, training parliamentarians on budget reporting and investing in researchers to feedback priorities from the districts to Parliament.
Nachilala Nkombo, Deputy Director of the Africa ONE Campaign, spoke on the Abuja Declaration - a commitment African Union member states signed in 2001 to increase health budget in their countries to a minimum of 15% of the national budget. She said that even though the declaration was signed in Abuja, few people in Abuja are aware of it. There is a need therefore to invest in promoting citizen awareness. Informed citizens have the courage to ask questions.
Kenneth Simbaya, AHBN Reporter, highlighted the importance of understanding that while the media doesn’t teach us what to say, they give us what to talk about. Governments and CSOs can use this to drive change in societies but need to provide the media with information. Should that happen the media will be able to use this to empower citizens. Information is power, so goes an old saying.
Capacity building of the media is another key issue which was highlighted at the panel. Journalists are trained to write well but not about issues such as health budgets. CSOs must invest in media training to help them to understand the issues.
Suzanna Dennis, Director of Research PAI, USA spoke about the role that international organizations such as PAI can play in supporting civil society in Africa to effectively advocate for more and better spending on health.
She spoke about her experience working with partners to advocate for increased spending on family planning, the importance of shared learning among CSOs, especially given the similar challenges they face. Suzanna also spoke of her particular experience in working with partners to develop a framework for identifying need, determining allocation, disbursement, spend and outcomes.
Dr Aminu Magashi Garba, coordinator of AHBN served as the moderator for the panel.
The launch of #ValueOurHealth campaign comes when international donor funding for health programs begins to plateau and resources are focused on the most urgent needs, something which compels countries to identify sustainable alternatives sources of funds to support health.
Two major studies published in The Lancet (links below) reveal the health financing crisis facing developing countries as a result of low domestic investment and stagnating international aid, which could leave millions of people without access to even the most basic health services.
Analysing national health spending and global health funding, the studies led by Dr Joseph Dieleman from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Seattle, USA, should be a wake-up call to global leaders and governments to deliver greater investment in health.