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      Estimating the impact of donor programs on child mortality in low- and middle-income countries: a synthetic control analysis of child health programs funded by the United States Agency for International Development


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          Significant levels of funding have been provided to low- and middle-income countries for development assistance for health, with most funds coming through direct bilateral investment led by the USA and the UK. Direct attribution of impact to large-scale programs funded by donors remains elusive due the difficulty of knowing what would have happened without those programs, and the lack of detailed contextual information to support causal interpretation of changes.


          This study uses the synthetic control analysis method to estimate the impact of one donor’s funding (United States Agency for International Development, USAID) on under-five mortality across several low- and middle-income countries that received above average levels of USAID funding for maternal and child health programs between 2000 and 2016.


          In the study period (2000–16), countries with above average USAID funding had an under-five mortality rate lower than the synthetic control by an average of 29 deaths per 1000 live births (year-to-year range of − 2 to − 38). This finding was consistent with several sensitivity analyses.


          The synthetic control method is a valuable addition to the range of approaches for quantifying the impact of large-scale health programs in low- and middle-income countries. The findings suggest that adequately funded donor programs (in this case USAID) help countries to reduce child mortality to significantly lower rates than would have occurred without those investments.

          Supplementary Information

          The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12963-021-00278-9.

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          Most cited references25

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          Synthetic Control Methods for Comparative Case Studies: Estimating the Effect of California’s Tobacco Control Program

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            Past, present, and future of global health financing: a review of development assistance, government, out-of-pocket, and other private spending on health for 195 countries, 1995–2050

            Summary Background Comprehensive and comparable estimates of health spending in each country are a key input for health policy and planning, and are necessary to support the achievement of national and international health goals. Previous studies have tracked past and projected future health spending until 2040 and shown that, with economic development, countries tend to spend more on health per capita, with a decreasing share of spending from development assistance and out-of-pocket sources. We aimed to characterise the past, present, and predicted future of global health spending, with an emphasis on equity in spending across countries. Methods We estimated domestic health spending for 195 countries and territories from 1995 to 2016, split into three categories—government, out-of-pocket, and prepaid private health spending—and estimated development assistance for health (DAH) from 1990 to 2018. We estimated future scenarios of health spending using an ensemble of linear mixed-effects models with time series specifications to project domestic health spending from 2017 through 2050 and DAH from 2019 through 2050. Data were extracted from a broad set of sources tracking health spending and revenue, and were standardised and converted to inflation-adjusted 2018 US dollars. Incomplete or low-quality data were modelled and uncertainty was estimated, leading to a complete data series of total, government, prepaid private, and out-of-pocket health spending, and DAH. Estimates are reported in 2018 US dollars, 2018 purchasing-power parity-adjusted dollars, and as a percentage of gross domestic product. We used demographic decomposition methods to assess a set of factors associated with changes in government health spending between 1995 and 2016 and to examine evidence to support the theory of the health financing transition. We projected two alternative future scenarios based on higher government health spending to assess the potential ability of governments to generate more resources for health. Findings Between 1995 and 2016, health spending grew at a rate of 4·00% (95% uncertainty interval 3·89–4·12) annually, although it grew slower in per capita terms (2·72% [2·61–2·84]) and increased by less than $1 per capita over this period in 22 of 195 countries. The highest annual growth rates in per capita health spending were observed in upper-middle-income countries (5·55% [5·18–5·95]), mainly due to growth in government health spending, and in lower-middle-income countries (3·71% [3·10–4·34]), mainly from DAH. Health spending globally reached $8·0 trillion (7·8–8·1) in 2016 (comprising 8·6% [8·4–8·7] of the global economy and $10·3 trillion [10·1–10·6] in purchasing-power parity-adjusted dollars), with a per capita spending of US$5252 (5184–5319) in high-income countries, $491 (461–524) in upper-middle-income countries, $81 (74–89) in lower-middle-income countries, and $40 (38–43) in low-income countries. In 2016, 0·4% (0·3–0·4) of health spending globally was in low-income countries, despite these countries comprising 10·0% of the global population. In 2018, the largest proportion of DAH targeted HIV/AIDS ($9·5 billion, 24·3% of total DAH), although spending on other infectious diseases (excluding tuberculosis and malaria) grew fastest from 2010 to 2018 (6·27% per year). The leading sources of DAH were the USA and private philanthropy (excluding corporate donations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). For the first time, we included estimates of China's contribution to DAH ($644·7 million in 2018). Globally, health spending is projected to increase to $15·0 trillion (14·0–16·0) by 2050 (reaching 9·4% [7·6–11·3] of the global economy and $21·3 trillion [19·8–23·1] in purchasing-power parity-adjusted dollars), but at a lower growth rate of 1·84% (1·68–2·02) annually, and with continuing disparities in spending between countries. In 2050, we estimate that 0·6% (0·6–0·7) of health spending will occur in currently low-income countries, despite these countries comprising an estimated 15·7% of the global population by 2050. The ratio between per capita health spending in high-income and low-income countries was 130·2 (122·9–136·9) in 2016 and is projected to remain at similar levels in 2050 (125·9 [113·7–138·1]). The decomposition analysis identified governments’ increased prioritisation of the health sector and economic development as the strongest factors associated with increases in government health spending globally. Future government health spending scenarios suggest that, with greater prioritisation of the health sector and increased government spending, health spending per capita could more than double, with greater impacts in countries that currently have the lowest levels of government health spending. Interpretation Financing for global health has increased steadily over the past two decades and is projected to continue increasing in the future, although at a slower pace of growth and with persistent disparities in per-capita health spending between countries. Out-of-pocket spending is projected to remain substantial outside of high-income countries. Many low-income countries are expected to remain dependent on development assistance, although with greater government spending, larger investments in health are feasible. In the absence of sustained new investments in health, increasing efficiency in health spending is essential to meet global health targets. Funding Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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              Measuring impact in the Millennium Development Goal era and beyond: a new approach to large-scale effectiveness evaluations.

              Evaluation of large-scale programmes and initiatives aimed at improvement of health in countries of low and middle income needs a new approach. Traditional designs, which compare areas with and without a given programme, are no longer relevant at a time when many programmes are being scaled up in virtually every district in the world. We propose an evolution in evaluation design, a national platform approach that: uses the district as the unit of design and analysis; is based on continuous monitoring of different levels of indicators; gathers additional data before, during, and after the period to be assessed by multiple methods; uses several analytical techniques to deal with various data gaps and biases; and includes interim and summative evaluation analyses. This new approach will promote country ownership, transparency, and donor coordination while providing a rigorous comparison of the cost-effectiveness of different scale-up approaches. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

                Author and article information

                Popul Health Metr
                Popul Health Metr
                Population Health Metrics
                BioMed Central (London )
                6 January 2022
                6 January 2022
                : 20
                [1 ]GRID grid.21107.35, ISNI 0000 0001 2171 9311, Department of International Health, , John Hopkins University & Public Health Institute (USAID Contractor), ; 615 N. Wolfe Street, Rm E8132, Baltimore, MD 21205 USA
                [2 ]GRID grid.453872.f, ISNI 0000 0004 0582 8413, Global Programs, , Water For People, ; 100 E. Tennessee Ave, Denver, CO 80209 USA
                [3 ]GRID grid.419451.c, ISNI 0000 0001 0403 9883, Alutiiq (State Department Contractor), ; 2000 N. Adams St., Arlington, VA 22201 USA
                [4 ]GRID grid.10698.36, ISNI 0000000122483208, UNC Center for Health Equity Research, School of Medicine, , The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ; 323 MacNider Hall 333 South Columbia Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7240 USA
                [5 ]Camris International (USAID Contractor), 3 Bethesda Metro Center, 16th Floor, Bethesda, MD 20814 USA
                © The Author(s) 2021

                Open AccessThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

                Funded by: FundRef http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/100000200, United States Agency for International Development;
                Award ID: Public Health Institute (Cooperative agreement #7200AA18CA00001)
                Award ID: Public Health Institute (Cooperative Agreement #OAA-A-11-00025)
                Award ID: CAMRIS International (Contract #AID-OAA-C-16-00031)
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