To Make ‘Health for All’ a Reality, Prioritize Investments in Public Health

By Nsikakabasi George | YPFP Rising Expert for Global Health | May 20, 2023 | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

April 7 is celebrated globally as World Health Day, which this year marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. On one hand, this milestone marks the success of multilateralism and the world’s commitment to ensuring health for all, as enshrined in the WHO’s constitution. However, progress in global health has not come without setbacks and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed global health’s utmost importance, for without health, we have nothing.

Investments in health and well-being, and effective implementation of those investments, are essential to achieving better health outcomes. This means an increased allocation of funds as a percentage of the country’s GDP to the health sector. Nonetheless, it is worthy of note that increased allocations are not always feasible as country-level budgeting activities are influenced by many factors and considerations, including the prioritization of other sectors which are also of utmost importance to the government.      However, health should be given more fiscal space and considerations, as the gains from investing in health far exceed the costs. Investing in health systems not only saves lives but is also a critical investment in the larger economy because poor health reduces productivity, impedes job opportunities, and has a negative impact on human capital development.

According to a 2017 OECD report, gains in life expectancy in most OECD countries reflected factors both within and outside the healthcare system. A 10% increase in health spending has been associated with an average gain of 3.5 months in life expectancy from 1995 to 2015, across 35 OECD countries. Even small investments in public health can result in huge gains in health, the economy, and other areas, with long-term benefits. The WHO affirms that investing in health in general has been shown to provide gains not only to the health care industry, but to education, trade, industrial output, and the economy as a whole, with an estimated fourfold return on every dollar invested, particularly in emerging economies globally. A study by McKinsey & Company found that better health outcomes could increase global GDP by up to $12 trillion by 2040. This is an increase of 8% annually, or an additional 0.4 percentage points of growth each year.

Neglecting public health would mean huge economic and health burdens, as shown recently by developments in the United Kingdom. The austerity measures and reduced funding for public health put forth by the conservative government in an effort to reduce budget deficits, notwithstanding the devolution of public health and social services to local government councils, have resulted in longer NHS waiting lists and reduced productivity. Insufficient staffing and remuneration have led to strikes by health workers in several places, which have in turn resulted in the cancellation of lifesaving operations and appointments. Even when countries take apparently meaningful steps to improve public health, poor implementation can blunt the positive impact. Nigeria, like other countries in Africa and Asia, increased funding to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and achieved some meaningful strides in strengthening health systems. While this helped contain the pandemic, insufficient resources were devoted to other areas of the health system, resulting in poorer outcomes in key areas including maternal and child health, as well as preventive care. Thus, funding should then be holistic and system-focused and not disease-focused.

World leaders will gather in Geneva for the 76th World Health Assembly in May 2023 to discuss health priorities and the global health agenda, including universal health coverage, health emergencies, health promotion, and strengthening health systems, among other topics. Several resolutions will be made, adding to resolutions from previous assemblies, and action points for country-level implementation will be put forward. Amid the discussions and deliberations, a key indicator of nations’ commitment to health will be their investments in public health systems.

Governments around the world therefore need to invest in public health, notably in the components of the health systems’ building blocks: leadership and governance, service delivery, health system financing, the health workforce, medical products, vaccines, and technologies, and health information systems. As the World Health Assembly draws near, countries should consider the benefits of strategically investing in health and ensuring healthcare for all.

Nsikakabasi George is YPFP’s Rising Expert for Global Health. He is a Public Health Practitioner with over 4 years cross-cutting experience across Health Policy and Management, Epidemiology, Health Financing, and Global Public Health, working with local and international organizations which targets sustainable development. You can find him on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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