Healthcare purchasing in the management of COVID-19.
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) across the world, various countries have taken significant steps to mitigate the effects of the pandemic as well as properly manage the situation as it unfolds. As this is primarily a health-related situation, the focus has been more on the health sector to provide solutions to this ravaging problem.
Proffering solutions to such a situation as this comes with its many problems, chief of which is the financial aspect as various purchases have to be made. With the slowdown in the economy worldwide, it has become even more necessary for efficient and proper utilisation of whatever available funds governments can lay their hands on.
In order to achieve the best results from money spent, purchasing of health products and services have to be strategic. I recently attended a webinar organised by CABRI which was centred around this topic of strategic purchasing in these times and this article is based off learnings from the session.
Strategic healthcare purchasing as defined by the World Health Organization is active, evidence-based engagement in defining the service-mix and volume, and selecting the provider-mix in order to maximize societal objective. In the context of COVID-19, strategic health purchasing refers to the efficient and effective use of available resources to obtain the necessary products and services required to curtail the effects of the disease.
This helps us to provide answers to questions on the products and services we need right now, and how best we can get access to them. There is a need to be more strategic about how purchases are made in this period and several measures have been taken by various African countries to achieve it.
One important step in healthcare purchasing is increasing the fiscal space so as to make more funds available for healthcare spending. Fiscal Space is commonly defined as the budgetary room that allows a government to provide resources for public purposes without undermining fiscal sustainability. This is an attempt by the government to ensure that other sectors of the economy do not suffer as more funds are being pumped into tackling the pandemic.
Access to loans and relief funds from organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank have been explored by various countries. Countries like Ghana, Seychelles and Nigeria have also begun utilising their Contingency and National Disaster Funds which had been previously set aside for significant emergencies (such as this).
Reprioritisation of available funds from various other sectors towards the health sector has also helped in increasing the fiscal space available to fund health purchases in this period. In taking one or more of these steps, the available pool of funds increases resulting in an increase in the government’s purchasing power.
Following the provision of funds, disbursement of said funds towards the necessary areas should be accelerated as much as possible. There are a lot of urgent needs in this period and as such, barriers to purchasing necessary equipment should be at a minimum. Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo have employed emergency clearance and simplified licensing so as to expedite the processes. This ensures that there is minimal delay in getting purchased goods to the point where they are needed.
Digital platforms have also increased in popularity as they have enabled seamless communication between buyers and sellers in these times of social distancing. This has helped connect buyers to sellers as they are aware of where the necessary materials they require are stocked prior to reaching out thereby saving time.
In response to the price gouging by some sellers, steps have been taken by the authorities to ensure the regulation of product prices. There has been a reduction/exemption of import duties on medical equipment and medicines, with the government also providing price subsidization in some instances.
Overall, various attempts are being made by governments across Africa and beyond on how best to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and the problems it manifests, particularly in the health sector. New methods are being employed frequently all with the aim of efficiently and effectively dealing with the scourge.
For more up-to-date information on the public financing spending of African governments in COVID-19, you can visit the public finance monitor on the CABRI website here: public finance monitor.