A Spoonful of Ingenuity: New Ideas for Raising Money for Medical Care

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

IN THE old days, the job of eradicating disease fell to governments and inter-governmental bodies. Then charities, often led by celebrities or entrepreneurs, joined in. Finally, in the Western world at least, governments accepted the need to pool their efforts with those of private donors, big and small. The effort still seems unequal to the task. Every year, nearly 11m children die before the age of five because of a mixture of poor nutrition and preventable disease. Many of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (calling, for example, for a plunge in child and maternal mortality by 2015) look unattainable.

The good news is that more imaginative ways of raising and spending money are now on the horizon. How well they do will depend on many details-like the quality of information flowing between poor places and the governments, firms and individuals that want to help.

The change in funding is already dramatic. In 1990 more than two-thirds of the $5.6 billion spent on global health assistance came from governments (see chart 1). By 2007, when total funding for health reached nearly $22 billion, government spending still made up the lion’s share. Look closer, though, and it emerges that the yeast which leavened this bread was “non-traditional” financing. In 2007 private money from firms and charities like the Gates Foundation eclipsed the total from all sources spent in 1990.

As a case of the new sort of money-raising, take UNITAID, an agency founded by France, Brazil and three other countries, which is hosted by the World Health Organisation in Geneva and calls itself a “facility” for the purchase of drugs to fight important diseases. UNITAID’s main income comes from a charge on air tickets, levied by a dozen states; combined with cash contributions from other countries, this has raised $1.5 billion in the past four years.

This month, a private foundation linked to UNITAID will start raising money directly from the public. With help from most of the world’s air-ticket issuers and internet-travel portals, passengers will be invited to give a couple of dollars, or so, to the fight against disease every time they book a flight online. UNITAID hopes that, within a few years, this plan will raise between $600m and $1 billion a year. If so, it will merit its name, MassiveGood

Source: The Economist (link opens in a new window)