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A new study published in The Lancet suggests that taxes on goods and services could potentially increase infant mortality in developing countries because they make it harder for poor families to afford food and basic health care.

Taxes on goods and services linked with increased infant mortality

Photo credit: Chantal de Bruijne / Shutterstock.com

The researchers from Oxford University, Stanford University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined different healthcare funding systems used by low-income and middle-income countries. Using data on 89 countries from 1995 to 2011 from World Bank Indicators and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the team find that an additional $100 per person from taxing goods and services can be linked with a significantly higher rate of infant mortality at around one death per 2,000 live births.

The report’s publication coincides with the convening of the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, where health ministers from over 150 countries will meet to discuss how to speed up progress towards universal health coverage. The research paper finds that increasing tax revenues will be critical to developing health systems in low-income and middle-income countries, but that some taxes work better than others.

Lead author Dr Aaron Reeves, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Sociology, said: 'Reducing infant mortality rates is a core objective for the global health community. Our research suggests that progressive tax policies, which protect the poor from increased costs, might significantly speed up progress towards these goals. Hiking up taxes on goods and services to pay for healthcare might have unintended consequences, putting a heavier burden on poorer households who end up buying less food or not accessing healthcare when they need it.'   

Read more on the University website