Trends and outcomes in primary health care expenditures in low-income and middle-income countries, 2000–2017

Published August 12, 2021, in BMJ Global Health (opens in a new window)


As the world responds to COVID-19 and aims for the Sustainable Development Goals, the potential for primary healthcare (PHC) is substantial, although the trends and effectiveness of PHC expenditure are unknown. We estimate PHC expenditure for each low-income and middle-income country between 2000 and 2017 and test which health outputs and outcomes were associated with PHC expenditure.


We used three data sources to estimate PHC expenditures: recently published health expenditure estimates for each low-income and middle-income country, which were constructed using 1662 country-reported National Health Accounts; proprietary data from IQVIA to estimate expenditure of prescribed pharmaceuticals for PHC; and household surveys and costing estimates to estimate inpatient vaginal delivery expenditures. We employed regression analyses to measure the association between PHC expenditures and 15 health outcomes and intermediate health outputs.


PHC expenditures in low-income and middle-income countries increased between 2000 and 2017, from $41 per capita (95% uncertainty interval $33–$49) to $90 ($73–$105). Expenditures for low-income countries plateaued since 2014 at $17 per capita ($15–$19). As national income increased, the proportion of health expenditures on PHC generally decrease; however, the fraction of PHC expenditures spent via ambulatory care providers grew. Increases in the fraction of health expenditures on PHC was associated with lower maternal mortality rate (p value≤0.001), improved coverage of antenatal care visits (p value≤0.001), measles vaccination (p value≤0.001) and an increase in the Health Access and Quality index (p value≤0.05). PHC expenditure was not systematically associated with all-age mortality, communicable and non-communicable disease (NCD) burden.


PHC expenditures were associated with maternal and child health but were not associated with reduction in health burden for other key causes of disability, such as NCDs. To combat changing disease burdens, policy-makers and health professionals need to adapt primary healthcare to ensure continued impact on emerging health challenges.

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Schneider MT, Chang AY, Crosby SW, Gloyd S, Harle AC, Lim S, Lozano R, Micah AE, Tsakalos G, Su Y, Murray CJL, Dieleman JL. Trends and outcomes in primary health care expenditures in low-income and middle-income countries, 2000–2017. BMJ Global Health. 12 August 2021. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2021-005798.