On May 24, the Global Health Advocacy Incubator hosted our most recent webinar: Fiscal Policies for Health. GHAI’s Senior Vice President Lucy Martinez Sullivan moderated a lively discussion between Omei Bongos of Gatefield Impact, Nigeria and Sana Ullah Ghumman of Pakistan National Heart Association.
Advocacy for effective fiscal policies for health can strengthen the resilience of health systems hit by the COVID-19 crisis, while accelerating progress toward the Sustainable Development Agenda and Universal Health Coverage. These policies often focus on the use of excise taxes to raise the prices of health-harming products—including tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages—which reduces consumption, prevents disease, saves lives and raises revenues.
Opening remarks were provided by the Honorable Karl Chua, Secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority, the Philippines. Secretary Chua described how excise taxes on tobacco products have helped fund primary healthcare in the Philippines. Multistakeholder coalitions were key in the process of enacting and implementing these policies. The “sin taxes” Secretary Chua described have funded emergency cash transfers, vaccinations, and investment in healthcare systems, all very critical especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Omei Bongos is the Communications, Policy and Governance Specialist at Gatefield Impact in Nigeria. She spoke on the role of civil society in advocating for the enactment of an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Nigeria. Overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages may lead to a variety of noncommunicable diseases, which are difficult and expensive to manage. Nigeria’s non-communicable disease burden strains the healthcare system, and revenue generation has been an ongoing issue for the federal government. A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages ameliorates two problems at once: the higher price discourages consumption, and revenue generated by the tax can be earmarked to provide healthcare funding and strengthen the public health system.
Sana Ullah Ghumman, General Secretary of Pakistan National Heart Association emphasized the power of coalitions in passing excise taxes on tobacco products and sugar-sweetened beverages in Pakistan. Despite industry interference from both the tobacco and beverage industries, the coalition has continuously employed a wide range of communications and advocacy strategies to advance legislation that has created new champions in key government agencies
Ms. Bongos also credits the success of Nigeria’s sugar-sweetened beverage tax to coalitions of advocates: “what turned political will into actual policy was the efforts of civil society.” The coalition focused on media engagement and collecting data on public opinion on the harms of sugar-sweetened beverages and the need for effective policy measures.
In both countries, messaging from industries opposed to excise taxes revolved around the potentially negative economic and employment impacts of a tax. Public health advocates, as part of their communications strategies, incorporated evidence from other countries showing that excise taxes do not negatively impact the economy nor lead to job losses.
Excise taxes can be remarkably effective tools for public health, particularly when viewed as a strategic investment. They reduce consumption of harmful products and generate revenue that can be directly invested in health systems, leading to healthier populations over the long term.
Watch the full recordings in English, Spanish, and French and learn more about GHAI’s work: