News

Experts Say Increased Investment in Health Will Lead to Economic Gains

8 January 2002
Author: UNFPA

Just a handful of health conditions, including HIV/AIDS and unsafe pregnancy, are responsible for almost one third of all deaths in low- and middle-income countries, a leading group of economics and health experts has found.

The 18-member Commission on Macroeconomics and Health established by the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded after a two-year study that a high proportion of avoidable deaths in poor countries are due to communicable diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions and nutritional deficiencies.

HIV/AIDS, unsafe pregnancy, tuberculosis, malaria, childhood diseases, infant illness at the time of delivery and tobacco-related illnesses account for most of that ill health, the commission reported, adding that “effective interventions for the prevention and control of these conditions already exist.”

Making the point that large reductions in mortality and morbidity could be achieved almost anywhere, the commission’s report, Macroeconomics and Health: Investing in Health for Economic Development, argues that well-targeted measures, using existing technologies, could save the lives of around 8 million people per year and generate yearly economic benefits of more than US$360 billion by 2015–2020.

About half of those benefits would be a direct result of people living longer, having more days of good health and, as such, being able to earn more, while the other half would be the indirect consequence of the greater individual productivity.

The commission argues in the report that proper investment in a country's human resources is a powerful engine for economic growth. Quite simply, good health is an essential prerequisite for equitable development and fair globalization.

The links between health, poverty reduction and economic growth are much more powerful than has been generally understood, the report states. The traditional assumption that that health will improve automatically as a result of economic growth is not borne out, while improved health is a critical requirement for economic growth.

The report sets out a framework by which low- and middle-income countries would commit additional domestic financial resources and political leadership and, in many cases, improve transparency and accountability and increase community involvement in health care. At the same time, high-income countries would commit to a substantial increase in financial assistance to the countries that need help most urgently.

“This report is a turning point," said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland. “It will influence how development assistance is prioritized and coordinated in the years to come.”

Ms. Brundtland set up the commission in January 2000 to clarify the links between health and economic development. It was chaired by Harvard economist Jeffrey D. Sachs and supported in its task by six expert working groups.

Contact Information:

Obi Emekekwue
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5043
Email: emekekwue@unfpa.org