A dumb way to measure Africa’s health

One of the international communities goals for poor nations is to get them to improve their health care. That’s a good thing. How you get there is another thing.

A decade ago, at about the same time the world launched the Millennium Development Goals, many African heads of state gathered together as members of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) in Abuja, Nigeria, to promise to increase health care spending to 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

Whose dumb idea was that?

Health Spending in Africa

Apparently, one of the key ways we are continuing to evaluate progress in Africa is by measuring how much each country is spending on health care. (To the right is a bad screen capture — sorry — of an interactive map that is much better at the link above.)

Is spending really a good way to measure of how they’re doing at improving health? I don’t think so.

The U.S. spends much more than any other nation (about $8,000 per person per year, or about 17% of our GDP and our health performance is pretty bad, about where Slovenia ranks, and by some accounts getting worse).

Clearly, as we have demonstrated to the world, you can spend more on health care and not get better health.

Let’s find a better indicator for health progress in Africa than money.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.