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The challenge of middle-income countries to development assistance for health: recipients, funders, both or neither?

  • Trygve Ottersen (a1) (a2) (a3), Suerie Moon (a4) and John-Arne Røttingen (a4) (a5) (a6)

Recent developments have transformed the role and characteristics of middle-income countries (MICs). Many stakeholders now question the appropriate role of MICs in the system of development assistance for health (DAH), and key funders have already recast their approach to these countries. The pressing question is whether MICs should be recipients, funders, both or neither. The answer has deep implications for individual countries and their citizens, and for the DAH system as a whole. We clarify the fundamental issues involved and emphasise a special feature of many MICs: mid-level gross national income per capita (GNIpc) combined with substantial health needs and large inequalities. We discuss the trade-off between concerns for capacity and need, and illustrate a capacity-based approach to setting the level of a GNIpc eligibility threshold. We also discuss how needs-based exceptions and incentive-preserving instruments can complement such a threshold. Against this background, we outline options for the future roles of MICs in various circumstances. We conclude that major players in the DAH system have reason to reconsider the criteria for allocating DAH among countries and the norms for which countries should contribute and how much.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
*Correspondence to: Trygve Ottersen, Department of Community Medicine and Global Health, Institute of Health and Society, PO Box 1130 Blindern, 0318 Oslo, Norway. Email:
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Health Economics, Policy and Law
  • ISSN: 1744-1331
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