Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Progress towards universal health coverage in BRICS: translating economic growth into better health

Krishna D Rao, Varduhi Petrosyan, Edson Correia Araujo & Diane McIntyre

Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa – the countries known as BRICS – represent some of the world’s fastest growing large economies and nearly 40% of the world’s population. Over the last two decades, BRICS have undertaken health-system reforms to make progress towards universal health coverage. This paper discusses three key aspects of these reforms: the role of government in financing health; the underlying motivation behind the reforms; and the value of the lessons learnt for non-BRICS countries. Although national governments have played a prominent role in the reforms, private financing constitutes a major share of health spending in BRICS. There is a reliance on direct expenditures in China and India and a substantial presence of private insurance in Brazil and South Africa. The Brazilian health reforms resulted from a political movement that made health a constitutional right, whereas those in China, India, the Russian Federation and South Africa were an attempt to improve the performance of the public system and reduce inequities in access. The move towards universal health coverage has been slow. In China and India, the reforms have not adequately addressed the issue of out-of-pocket payments. Negotiations between national and subnational entities have often been challenging but Brazil has been able to achieve good coordination between federal and state entities via a constitutional delineation of responsibility. In the Russian Federation, poor coordination has led to the fragmented pooling and inefficient use of resources. In mixed health systems it is essential to harness both public and private sector resources.

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