African finance ministers convene at Harvard to discuss health financing

Finance ministers at annual forum hear remarks from HSPH Dean Julio Frenk in late April.

May 1, 2013 — The influence of a minister of finance in shaping broad public policy, building sustainable health financing, and increasing efficiency in implementation and delivery of health and social services while securing fiscal and economic stability and growth were the key topics of the recently convened inaugural Ministerial Forum for Ministers of Finance, held at Harvard on April 21-25, 2013. A joint program of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Forum was launched to bring together distinguished current and former ministers from around the world to Harvard; it will become an annual event. Twenty-one serving and former ministers from 18 countries, mostly in Africa, participated in the intensive four-day program led by senior faculty from HSPH and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) as well as AfDB technical experts.

Opening the Forum, HSPH Dean [[Julio Frenk]] said, “The Forum provides ministers a unique opportunity for shared experiential learning in a non-political, unofficial environment.” The overall goal of the Forum is to discuss fresh perspectives on the role of ministers of finance, new ideas about health financing and increasing efficiencies in the use of public funds, and the relation between investments in health and social programs and sustainable economic development.

AfDB President Donald Kaberuka said in his remarks that improvements in maternal and child health and success in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in many African countries are two of the biggest success stories of the decade. Much of this success is due to unprecedented external funding from international donor agencies, Kaberuka noted. But now, with a global economic downturn and shifting global priorities, ministers of finance must increasingly look to ensure sustainability from national resources.

The attendees examined the experience of countries like Brazil and Mexico, which have achieved significant success in improving health, and the effectiveness of interventions focused on underserved and impoverished populations, such as conditional cash transfers, which can provide cash incentives for enrolling in health and education programs. Evidence shows that such programs can produce both social and economic benefits. Another key issue raised during the Forum was how best to realize value from health and social sector spending. Participants agreed that investment in maintenance and development of health infrastructure—such as clinics, health centers, and health personnel—is essential for more efficient use of resources and higher-quality services.

The Ministerial Forum for Ministers of Finance is part of the Ministerial Leadership in Health Program, a joint initiative of HSPH and HKS.