Importance: International aid to the health sector is an important component of all health spending in many developing countries. The relationship between health aid and changes in population health among aid recipients remains unknown.
Objective: To quantify the relationship between health aid and changes in life expectancy and mortality in children younger than 5 years (under-5 mortality) among aid recipient nations.
Design: Cross-country panel data analysis of the relationship between measures of health aid, life expectancy, and under-5 mortality. Using difference models for longitudinal data with fixed effects for countries and years, we estimated the unique relationship between health aid and changes in life expectancy and under-5 mortality, controlling for gross domestic product per capita, urbanization, and total fertility rate.
Setting and participants: A total of 140 aid-recipient countries between 1974 and 2010.
Exposure: Annual amount of development assistance directed to the health sector in constant 2010 US dollars.
Main outcomes and measures: Improvements in under-5 mortality and life expectancy in the period following aid receipt.
Results: Between 1974 and 2010, each 1% increase in health aid was associated with 0.24 months greater increase in life expectancy (95% CI, 0.02-0.46) (P = .03) and a 0.14 per 1000 live births faster decline in the probability of under-5 deaths per 1000 live births (95% CI, 0.02-0.26) (P = .02). The association between health aid and health improvements has strengthened over time, with the closest association occurring between 2000 and 2010. Health improvements associated with health aid are measurable for 3 to 5 years after aid disbursement. These findings imply that an increase of $1 billion in health aid could be associated with 364,800 fewer under-5 deaths (95% CI, 98,400-630,000).
Conclusions and relevance: International aid to the health sector is related to increasing life expectancy and declining under-5 mortality. The benefits from aid appear to last for several years and have been greatest between 2000 and 2010, possibly because of improving health technologies or effective targeting of aid.