Publication date: Jan 23, 2024
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed the fragility of pre-crisis African health systems, in which too little was invested over the past decades. Yet, development assistance for health (DAH) more than doubled between 2000 and 2020, raising questions about the role and effectiveness of DAH in triggering and sustaining health systems investments. This paper analyses the inter-regional variations and trends of DAH in Africa in relation to some key indicators of health system financing and service delivery performance, examining (1) the trends of DAH in the five regional economic communities of Africa since 2000; (2) the relationship between DAH spending and health system performance indicators and (3) the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of aid substitution for domestic financing, policy-making and accountability. Africa is diverse and the health financing picture has evolved differently in its subregions. DAH represents 10% of total spending in Africa in 2020, but DAH benefitted Southern Africa significantly more than other regions over the past two decades. Results in terms of progress towards universal health coverage (UHC) are slightly associated with DAH. Overall, DAH may also have substituted for public domestic funding and undermined the formation of sustainable UHC financing models. As the COVID-19 crisis hit, DAH did not increase at the country level. We conclude that the current architecture of official development assistance (ODA) is no longer fit for purpose. It requires urgent transformation to place countries at the centre of its use. Domestic financing of public health institutions should be at the core of African social contracts. We call for a deliberate reassessment of ODA modalities, repurposing DAH on what it could sustainably finance. Finally, we call for a new transparent framework to monitor DAH that captures its contribution to building institutions and systems.