Development assistance for health (DAH) to low- and middle-income countries provided by donors and international agencies are given in the form of grants, low-cost loans, and goods and services. Without this assistance, some of the poorest countries would be less able to supply basic health care.

A new study, being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, tracked the flow of development assistance for health and estimated that in 2013 it reached $31.3 billion.

Looking at past growth patterns of these international transfers of funds for health, authors Joseph Dieleman, Casey Graves, Tara Templin, Elizabeth Johnson, Ranju Baral, Katherine Leach-Kemon, Anne Haakenstad, and Christopher Murray identified a steady 6.5 percent annualized growth rate between 1990 and 2000, which nearly doubled to 11.3 percent between 2001 and 2010 with the burgeoning of many public-private partnerships. Since 2011, however, annualized growth has dramatically dropped, to 1.1 percent, due, in part, to the effect of the global economic crisis.

The authors also noted that funding from many US government agencies (excluding resources transferred to other channels such as NGOs, the World Bank, and others) have actually declined in the last two years. This study is a follow-up to a December 2011 Health Affairs study published by several of the same authors.

The study found that the largest portion of health assistance targeted HIV/AIDS (25 percent), with 20 percent of that targeting maternal, newborn, and child health. To measure the amount of development assistance for health, the authors collected revenue and expenditure data for twenty-three bilateral aid agencies and divided the information into eight health focus areas.

“Dividing these data across health focus areas and combining them with disease burden data raised a host of important policy questions,” concluded the authors. “[I]t is imperative for donors and policy makers to assess the distribution of development assistance for health and to consider why disbursements coalesce around certain diseases and recipients.”

All the authors are affiliated with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, in Seattle. The study, which will also appear in the May issue of Health Affairs, had research support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.