Morocco's decision to increase the 2020 budget for the Ministry of Health by 14.4% has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Over the past 20 years, Morocco has largely succeeded in eliminating extreme poverty and spreading prosperity, thanks to investment in health and education, and the deployment of social safety nets.
As a result, between 2000 and 2017, real GDP per capita nearly doubled from USD1,727 to USD2,948, the national poverty rate declined to 4.8%, and extreme poverty fell to 1%.
Most notably, public healthcare has been made free-of-charge to the entire population and the poor have been exempted from the payments of care delivered by public secondary and tertiary hospitals.
Along with the rollout of a universal health coverage plan, the government has engaged in actions to improve service delivery in healthcare facilities in both urban and rural areas and increase overall access to healthcare. These include the law 34-09 related to the improvement of the healthcare service delivery; the National Nutrition Strategy (2011-2019); the Action Plan to Reduce Maternal and Neonatal Mortality; and several projects for the prevention and control of high blood pressure and diabetes.
The country has also modernized its social safety net (SSN) in recent years, spending roughly 2% of GDP on SSN programs, close to worldwide median spending. Critically, some of these programs use best-practice tools, such as a poverty map and a scoring formula, to identify their beneficiaries.
As of May 2019, healthcare coverage had been extended to more than 60% of the population, compared to less than 47% in 2017. The government also unveiled a six-stage plan in 2019 to thoroughly reform the healthcare system by 2025. One of the main objectives of the national health plan is to tackle the under-staffing of rural medical facilities by offering doctors and nurses bonus payments for visiting or working in remote areas.
In 2019, the WHO applauded Morocco’s effort to reform healthcare and noted that the organization is ready to support the country.
All these developments bode well for the vision of King Mohammed VI, who has time and time again stressed on the importance of ensuring fair and equitable access to healthcare in order to achieve sustainable development, and the national fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In this sense, the decision to increase the 2020 budget for the Ministry of Health by 14.4%, from MAD16.3 billion to MAD18.7 billion, could not have come at a better time.
The 2020 budget also includes funding for the hiring of 4,000 additional healthcare workers, an increase in the budget for the RAMED medical assistance program, and the exemption from VAT on vaccines for low-income households.
In contrast to what is happening in some of the world’s most developed countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has actually increased public trust in the government in Morocco. According to research conducted by the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, citizens are apparently satisfied with the actions taken by the government to fight the novel coronavirus.
Not only did the government swiftly issue a series of measures to slow down the spread of the virus, King Mohammed VI ordered the creation of an emergency fund to address urgent medical needs and the economic impacts of the epidemic.
With contributions from the government, UNICEF, the European Investment Bank, NGOs, private players, and organizations like the AfDB and the IFC, the fund has managed to raise more than USD3.2 billion.
The pandemic is also shining a light on digital, data-driven solutions in Morocco, and new applications are assisting Moroccans in their fight against the virus. In April, the French-Moroccan start-up Dakibot unveiled a chatbot that uses information from the Ministry of Health and the WHO to provide users with answers to questions concerning COVID-19.
Likewise, in a bid to ensure better exchange of information medical strategies in the battle against the virus, the Ministry of Health launched an app for doctors, medical staff, and experts.
Despite the efforts being made by governments around the world, no country can claim to boast a health system that is prepared to handle the kind of unprecedented crisis we are facing. But Moroccans are hoping that the measures being taken by the government will in the long term turn into a boomerang that will bolster inclusive, sustainable development.
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