The impact of economic sanctions on health and health systems in low- and middle-income countries

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Economic sanctions, understood as measures taken by one state or a group of states to coerce another into a desired conduct (eg by restricting trade and financial flows) do not primarily seek to adversely affect the health or health system of the target country's population. Yet, there may be indirect or unintended health and health system consequences that ought to be borne in mind when assessing the full set of effects of sanctions. We take stock of the evidence to date in terms of whether - and if so, how - economic sanctions impact health and health systems in LMICs.

We undertook a structured literature review (using MEDLINE and Google Scholar), covering the peer-reviewed and grey literature published from 1970-2019, with a specific focus on quantitative assessments.

Most studies (23/27) that met our inclusion criteria focus on the relationship between sanctions and health outcomes, ranging from infant or child mortality as the most frequent case over viral hepatitis to diabetes and HIV, among others. Fewer studies (9/27) examined health system related indicators, either as a sole focus or jointly with health outcomes. A minority of studies explicitly addressed some of the methodological challenges, incl. control for relevant confounders and the endogeneity of sanctions. Taking the results at face value, the evidence is almost unanimous in highlighting the adverse health and health system effects of economic sanctions.

Quantitatively assessing the impact of economic sanctions on health or health systems is a challenging task, not least as it is persistently difficult to disentangle the effect of sanctions from many other, potentially major factors at work that matter for health (as, for instance, war). In addition, in times of severe economic and political crisis (which often coincide with sanctions), the collection of accurate and comprehensive data that could allow appropriate measurement is typically not a priority.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberckaa165.912
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue numberSupplement_5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

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