Overconfident: How economic and health loopholes have left Middle East and North Africa unprepared for COVID-19 – Yemen

MENA’s ill-prepared health systems show sluggish and uneven recovery in 2021

GDP will grow 2.8% by end of 2021, below pre-pandemic levels

WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 — Long-term socio-economic trends and underfunded public health systems have left the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region ill-prepared to respond to the pandemic, contributing to a recovery tenuous and uneven as the region struggles to emerge from COVID -19.

The World Bank’s latest regional economic update, titled Overconfident: How economic and health loopholes have left the Middle East and North Africa unprepared for COVID-19, details how MENA health systems were under stress before the pandemic, as high public payrolls crowded out investment in social services such as health, a symptom the report describes as “fiscal short-sightedness.”

Overall, the estimated cumulative cost of the pandemic in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) losses in the region by the end of this year will amount to nearly $ 200 billion. These costs are calculated by comparing where the region’s GDP would have been had the pandemic not struck. According to the report, the region’s GDP contracted 3.8% in 2020 and is expected to grow 2.8% in 2021.

“* The crippling impact of the pandemic on economic activity in the region is a painful reminder that economic development and public health are inextricably linked. *,” noted Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “* Going forward, more emphasis needs to be placed on building core public health functions and harnessing the power of health data and preventive health systems to accelerate the region’s recovery and prepare for future public health emergencies that may arise due to future pandemics, climate-related disasters and even social conflicts *. “

In terms of GDP per capita, which is a measure of living standards, the report predicts a weak and uneven recovery in the MENA region in 2021. The region’s GDP per capita is only expected to increase by 1.1% in 2021 afterwards. have fallen by 5.4% in 2020 By the end of 2021, the region’s GDP per capita will still be 4.3% below 2019 levels. Thirteen of the region’s 16 countries will have lower living standards in 2021 to their pre-COVID levels. For the different countries, the growth rate of GDP per capita in 2021 is uneven, ranging from -9.8% in Lebanon, which is in deep recession, to 4.0% in Morocco. The recovery will also depend on a rapid and equitable deployment of vaccines; especially since new variants of the virus are emerging. Additional risks to growth are posed by political uncertainty in some countries and others over how quickly tourism is rebounding.

“* The past two years have shown that controlling the pandemic is essential not only to save lives, but also to accelerate economic recovery, which is now tenuous and uneven in the MENA region. Stressed health systems and overdue immunizations in many middle- and low-income countries in the region herald downside risks *, ”said Roberta Gatti, World Bank Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa region.

The MENA region was one of the only regions in the developing world where public expenditure as a percentage of GDP increased in the decade preceding the pandemic, from 16% to 18% between 2009 and 2019. This legacy of large sectors public and high public debt crowded out investment in the public

health, which in turn transferred some health costs to individuals, as evidenced by the disproportionate personal expenditure on medical care. Another symptom of strained public health systems was the low share of spending on preventive health, all of which contributed to the region’s high rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases compared to peers. In addition, the region’s young population created the statistical illusion of a healthy population, which could have made it less urgent to invest in health emergency preparedness.

The report finds that the region’s public health systems were not only ill-prepared to absorb the shock of the pandemic, but that authorities had previously painted an overly optimistic picture in the self-assessments of the preparedness of the pandemic. their health systems. This is what the report calls “overconfidence”.

Insufficient data collection and use could have contributed significantly to this overconfidence. The report argues that improving data transparency for public health can help countries not only meet sustainable health needs, but also prepare for future health emergencies. The current underinvestment in public health systems must therefore be urgently addressed by prioritizing investments in essential public health functions in public sector budgets, the report concludes.

COVID-19 response:

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group deployed over $ 157 billion to combat the health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and most important crisis response in its history. Funding helps more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and launch a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank also supports over 50 low- and middle-income countries, of which more than half in Africa, with the purchase and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines, and provides $ 20 billion in funding for this purpose until the end of 2022.


in Washington

Sue pleming

(202) 981-8929

[email protected]

Achraf Al-Saeed

(202) 473-1187

[email protected]

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