Economics

Lowest Health Expenditures Relative To GDP Worldwide

Countries with various economic capacities spend little on health related to their overall GDP, but other geographic and economic factors can help explain this

Total health expenditures refer to the sum all of the money spent by a government for providing public and private health. These expenditures cover various components of healthcare, from the provision of preventive and curative health services, to emergency aid, nutritional counseling, and family planning. Not included within these expenditures are provisions for sanitary water and other utilities to the population.

The Importance of Healthcare Expenditures

The general expenditures on health made by a government are comprised by all direct outlays for the enhancement of the health status of both specific groups of individuals and the general population aggregately. In general, developing countries have low absolute health expenditure rates, but that picture can change when looking at countries’ health expenditures relative to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the sum of the value of all goods and services produced within a country within a given year.

Healthcare Versus GDP: An Ambiguous Picture

Using classifications compiled by the World Health Organization, we see that Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the country with the lowest health expenditures relative to GDP in the world, standing at only 1.8%. This fact was not overlooked by UNICEF, which requires all United Nations member countries to review their health expenditures and establish firm goals for budgets dedicated to health. Myanmar’s Thein Nyunt, an opposition member of the government, agrees with UNICEF saying that “Investing in children’s education and health care would be an investment in our future human resources. The budget should spend more on child education and health care right now”. Unfortunately, in the case of Myanmar, the sad effects left behind by decades of social neglect are not easy to turn around. Turkmenistan, with only 2% of health expenditures from the budget, closely follows Myanmar on the list. They have also been advised to follow UNICEF’s consul by investing more in their healthcare and educational infrastructure.

A slightly more difficult situation to analyze is that of Qatar. While it’s true that the World Health Organization ranked them on the third place among the countries with the lowest health expenditures relative to GDP (2.2%), Qatar also has a low population and disproportionately high GDP per capita. The rapport between the lower population base and the high GDP shows clearly that Qatar has, in fact, one the highest healthcare expenditures per capita globally. Nonetheless, the government should pay attention to gradually raising the budget dedicated to health, because the fast-growing population will surely demand more from the health system. Another stress on the healthcare infrastructure that Qatar would be wise to consider is the marked increment of diseases of civilization due to sedentary lifestyles and the decreased physical demands coinciding with increased affluence, such as obesity and diabetes. Taking into account the two key factors of a growing population and high-income levels, it’s easy to see why investments in the healthcare system in Qatar are promising opportunities for many financiers around the globe.

Brunei, with 2.3% of health expenditures as part of GDP, closely follows Qatar. This country spends a very low amount on health relative to the income per capita the country generates. Kuwait, with health expenditures totaling 2.5% of GDP, is the fifth country ranked among our list. Though the country has a small population, it nonetheless boasts numerous medical facilities in both public and private sectors, and reasons behind its ranking are very similar to those seen in the case of Qatar. Within the Kuwaiti healthcare system, there are not typically very long waiting lists, but to receive specialized treatment it is sometimes necessary for its citizens to seek medical assistance within one of the country’s similarly oil-rich neighbors in and around the Arabian and Mediterranean Sea. Despite the widespread availability of generalized healthcare, the low accessibility to specialized treatments indicates that Kuwait should consider expanding its health budget within these niche sectors.

Final Thoughts

As we have seen, the list is characterized by very different kinds of countries: very underdeveloped nations in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where low health care expenses are consistent with larger trends of limited access to resources and infrastructure in general, and states with petroleum-fueled economies where relative healthcare expenditures are diluted to disproportionately high per capita GDPs compared to the rest of the world. While low health expenditures relative to GDP doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality of health services in a country, in many cases governments should consider thoroughly scrutinizing the healthcare budgets. After all, it’s an investment in their future.

Lowest Health Expenditures Relative To GDP Worldwide

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RankCountry% of GDP
1Burma1.80 %
2Turkmenistan2.00 %
3Qatar2.20 %
4Brunei2.30 %
5Kuwait2.50 %
6Eritrea2.60 %
7Oman2.60 %
8South Sudan2.60 %
9Pakistan2.70 %
10United Arab Emirates2.80 %
11Laos2.90 %
12Indonesia3.00 %
13Saudi Arabia3.20 %
14Congo, Republic of the3.20 %
15Sri Lanka3.30 %
16Cook Islands3.40 %
17Syria3.40 %
18Angola3.50 %
19Gabon3.50 %
20Chad3.50 %
21Bangladesh3.60 %
22Iraq3.60 %
23Vanuatu3.60 %
24Ethiopia3.80 %

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