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Publication date: 
January 13, 2019


Government health spending is a primary source of funding in the health sector across the world. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, only about a third of all health spending is sourced from the government. The objectives of this study are to describe the growth in government health spending, examine its determinants and explain the variation in government health spending across sub-Saharan African countries.


We used panel data on domestic government health spending in 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa from 1995 to 2015 from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. A regression model was used to examine the factors associated with government health spending, and Shapley decomposition was used to attribute the contributions of factors to the explained variance in government health spending.


While the growth rate in government health spending in sub-Saharan Africa has been positive overall, there are variations across subgroups. Between 1995 and 2015, government health spending in West Africa grew by 6.7% (95% uncertainty intervals [UI]: 6.2% to 7.0%) each year, whereas in Southern Africa it grew by only 4.5% (UI: 4.5% to 4.5%) each year. Furthermore, per-person government health spending ranged from $651 (Namibia) in 2017 purchasing power parity dollars to $4 (Central African Republic) in 2015. Good governance, national income and the share of it that is government spending were positively associated with government health spending. The results from the decomposition, however, showed that individual country characteristics made up the highest percentage of the explained variation in government health spending across sub-Saharan African countries.


These findings highlight that a country’s policy choices are important for how much the health sector receives. As the attention of the global health community focuses on ways to stimulate domestic government health spending, an understanding that individual country sociopolitical context is an important driver for success will be key.


Micah AE, Chen SC, Zlavog BS, Hashimi G, Chapin A, Dieleman JL. Trends and drivers of government health spending in sub-Saharan Africa, 1995–2015. BMJ Global Health. 13 Jan 2019;4(1):e001159. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2018-001159.