1. In response to concerns expressed by Member States, the Director-General convened a high-level consultation before the opening of the Executive Board’s 124th session on the impact of the global financial and economic crisis. The objectives were:
(a) to build awareness of the ways in which an economic downturn may affect health spending, health services, health-seeking behaviour and health outcomes;
(b) to make the case for sustaining investments in health; and
(c) to identify actions – including monitoring of early warning signs – that can help to mitigate the negative impact of economic downturns.
2. A background paper prepared for the meeting is attached at Annex 1, and the programme and speakers list is at Annex 2. This note summarizes the key points from the discussion and the conclusions of the meeting.
3. As a consequence of the financial crisis in OECD countries, the world risks the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s. The impact of earlier increases in the cost of food and fuel are estimated to have tipped more than 100 million people back into poverty. The challenge facing the world now is to prevent an economic crisis becoming a social and a health crisis.
4. Earlier crises in the 1980s and 1990s started in developing countries. In the current case, the crisis began in the industrialized world; it is therefore possible that the full effects have yet to be manifest in developing countries. At the same time, for the many low-income countries that have been facing chronic financial shortages, hardship is not new. A grave human crisis is already happening. The problem is that their situation may get even worse as they are affected by the downturn, and through causes which are not of their own making.
5. Some countries are at particular risk. These include developed countries that have required emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund, where spending restrictions may be imposed during loan repayment. Many developing countries are in a far better fiscal position than they were in earlier crises, and most will continue on a path of economic growth, albeit at a slower rate. However, those that depend heavily on donor funding in health risk facing a decline in aid receipts. Populations in those countries affected by or emerging from conflict, with few financial reserves, weak institutions and damaged infrastructure, are especially vulnerable. Others, particularly small island developing States, have to face an economic downturn while coping with the imminent impact of climate change.