Health is a fundamental human right. Alongside a healthy and sustainable environment, a healthy population must be the ultimate goal of economic activity. If the goal is Health for All, then we must ask what sort of economy can deliver that? This means designing all economic tools – from budgets, to procurement, to the structure of loans – to deliver on the goal.
Countries have come a long way in better prioritising health. However, health continues to be viewed as a variable in the economic equation, a peripheral concern of economic policies or a cost, disassociated from its contribution to the social fabric and dynamics of a thriving and resilient society. This status quo view has led to where we are at present: a major health crisis has wiped out the gains from decades of global development and exacerbated persistent inequities.
Investing for health is key to an inclusive economy. This requires a fundamental rethink of how value in health and well-being is measured, produced and distributed across the economy, and integrating that into all policies to pursue economic activity, productivity and wealth for the common good.
The World Health Organization Council on the Economics of Health for All aims to develop a new narrative that transforms financing for health from an expenditure to an investment in a ‘healthy society’, grounded in fundamental truths – namely that health and the economy are interdependent; that health is in itself a key economic sector but also a cross-cutting lens through which to view many different sectors; that health is critical to the resilience and stability of economies worldwide; and that we can channel and shape public and private investments in health to achieve global cooperation towards supranational goals.
This broadened framing of health and investments for health will enable us to move from focusing on maximising value for money within a given health budget through narrowly understood efficiency gains, towards creating a new political economy for Health for All. This is an ambitious agenda that foregrounds the investment in the major social, economic, environmental and political determinants of health that have cumulative impacts and shape the trajectory of people’s lives. ▪