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Healthy Budgets, Healthy People: a discussion with Ministers of Finance on Fiscal Policies for Health

23 Sep 2019

23 September 2019, New York: The UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage represents the last opportunity before 2023, the mid-way point of the SDG mandate, to mobilise the highest levels of political support to package the entire health agenda under the umbrella of UHC. Engaging in a constructive and proactive manner with policymakers across sectors will be essential to achieving UHC. To this end, the World Heart Federation has convened a panel discussion of high-level representatives of Ministries of Finance, Ministries of Health, UN agencies and the private sector around fiscal policies for health. The event is officially sponsored by the Government of Barbados, supported by the Governments of Ukraine and Uruguay, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, and the World Heart Federation. There is overwhelming evidence that fiscal policies are a win-win-win measure to achieve public health goals, reduce healthcare costs, increase productivity, and raise domestic resources. Nevertheless, such policies remain underutilized as a tool for promoting global health.

To facilitate high-level dialogue around this crucial topic, the World Heart Federation commissioned a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit to examine attitudes and beliefs of Ministries of Finance – those instrumental in creating and adopting these policies – towards taxing unhealthy commodities to help fund health priorities, such as UHC. The resulting publication, Healthy Budgets, Healthy People, explores the beliefs and attitudes of senior finance ministry officials on every aspect of tobacco taxation, including its purpose, setting of appropriate rates, illicit trade, enforcement and implications for spending possibilities, including financing universal health coverage. While the contents of the report are solely the responsibility of the Economist Intelligence Unit and the views expressed do not reflect those of the World Heart Federation, the interviews within serve as a valuable measurement of the contextual baseline for engagement, as a trigger for deepening dialogue across sectors, and as a launchpad for all stakeholders wishing to demonstrate leadership, mobilise high-level political attention, and promote fiscal policies as a way to finance UHC.

In the unique context of the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage Political Declaration, in particular Paragraph 44, the 23 September panel discussion will focus on the key messages expressed by some of the Ministers who were interviewed as part of the report. The panel will be moderated by celebrated journalist Zeinab Badawi to ensure an open and productive dialogue around the often-politicised subject of taxing unhealthy commodities.

Following the High-Level meeting in New York in September 2019, the World Heart Federation will continue to promote and drive dialogue with leading policymakers within Ministries of Finance at other high-level fora, such as the World Economic Forum and World Bank Group Spring Meeting.