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Investments in Health Return Great Economic Benefits

December 06, 2016

Aid donors and governments of low- and middle-income countries can boost economic prosperity by investing in cost-effective health interventions, concludes a new report co-authored by researchers at Duke, the University of California, San Francisco, and Imperial College London.

The lead author is Gavin Yamey, a  member of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and a professor of global health and public policy.

The report, "Investing in Health: The Economic Case," the report of the WISH Investing in Health Forum, was released on November 30 in Doha, Qatar, at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), a global initiative of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

The economic returns to investing in health are substantial and impressive. Health boosts individual and household income, as well as a country’s GDP, in many different ways. For example, healthier people work harder and take fewer days off for sickness, and healthier, well-nourished children are more likely to go to school and stay there longer, which in turn is linked to higher earnings in adulthood. 

But Yamey and his co-authors—Naomi Beyeler, Hester Wadge and Dean Jamison—urge policymakers to take a broader view.

“If policymakers only use the GDP to estimate these benefits, they will not see the full picture. When asked, people put a high monetary value on the additional years of life that health investments can bring—an inherent value to being alive for longer, unrelated to productivity. Policymakers need to do more to make sure health spending reflects people’s priorities.”

The report makes a powerful case that health services should be publicly funded rather than paid for privately (out of pocket). “Without public financing,” say Yamey and colleagues, “there will be some who cannot afford the care they need, and they will be forced to choose sickness—perhaps even death—and financial ruin; a devastating choice that already pushes 150 million people into poverty every year.”

In determining which specific services to offer, the report urges governments and aid organizations to invest in “best-buy interventions” targeted to local need, such as vaccinations, family planning, and anti-retroviral medicines to treat HIV. Investing in health, conclude the authors, brings comprehensive benefits to a nation, “lifting many out of the poverty caused by medical expenses; boosting productivity and income; and, perhaps most fundamentally—improved health and longer lives for its people.”

These can also include maternal and child health conditions and non-communicable, chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

This article was originally published on the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy website and was republished with permission.

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WISH Report
Global health professor Gavin Yamey was the lead author of the "Investing in Health: The Economic Case" report, released on November 30 in Doha, Qatar, at the World Innovation Summit for Health.

The report makes a powerful case that health services should be publicly funded rather than paid for privately (out of pocket).

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