UNECA – Sectoral Study on Health Services in Africa – A focus on how trade liberalisation can boost intra-African trade in health services

International Economics Consulting Ltd (IEC) prepared this Sectoral Study on the Health Services in Africa – A focus on how trade liberalisation can boost intra-African trade in health services, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The report covers the state of the health sector in Africa, the economic and social importance of trade in health services, the liberalisation of health services in Africa along with proposals on how to strengthen the health services sector.

The report found how Africa’s health sector is constrained by a number of elements. Limited access to healthcare delivery and poor infrastructure, shortage of trained healthcare professionals, brain-drain and malpractice and corruption in the public sector are some of the most common challenges.

Additionally, the global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus has also had a significant impact on trade in health services exposing the serious weaknesses of the health sector in Africa.

Trade liberalisation in the health sector would boost competition, ensure availability of supply and contribute to address some of the identified challenges. However, to date only 14 African countries have made some type of commitment under the GATS professional services medical sector, with 7 having made commitments to medical and dental services and other human health services. Progress at the regional level in liberalising trade in health has also been slow, with the EAC being the only REC undertaking liberalisation commitments in the Health Sector.

With the health sector playing a critical role in trade through supply of services, it has become important to reconsider the policies in place so as to promote the growth of the health sector. The adoption of policies addressing brain drain, increasing investment in the health sector, linking public and private health care services, promoting the adoption of telemedicine, integrating policies such as telecommunications, insurance, and education would be required to re-strengthen the health sector in Africa and allow it to tackle the most pressing needs of the continent.

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