Why Investing in Public Health is important for Economy boost post-COVID?
Public Health is the most important, but unfortunately the most neglected asset of any country. When public health is affected, the economy suffers in magnitude.
The International Monetary Fund has put forward some dire predictions for the global economy in post- COVID days. IMF also has labeled the present global crisis as the worst slump since the Great Depression.
Many economists and Reserve Bank of India Governor have predicted a grim economic future for India in leu of the present unfolding of the impact on the economy.
Public health has suffered the most in this pandemic crisis with a direct effect on the economy of the country. Is this going to lead to greater investments in the health sector to protect the economy in such dire circumstances?
The recent financial package of INR 20 lakh crore announced by the Central Government is hopeful. It includes strengthening of healthcare and wellness centers, hospital blocks for infectious diseases establishment in all districts, expansion of laboratories, and ‘One Health’ research on zoonotic diseases under ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research).
This is, however, a limited and short-sighted response.
Equitable Health Services – Need of the Hour
What we realized during the coronavirus pandemic is how inefficient our public health system is. This was demonstrated in countries with the most established healthcare system. The healthcare crippled and stumbled as the pandemic crisis unfolded across the world.
A well-balanced health care system that is equitable and affordable is the most essential requirement, not just as a response to the crisis, but as a basic foundation of a strong nation and hence a stronger economy.
The southern states of India demonstrated how important an equitable public health system is. Kerala for instance, which had recorded one of the initial cases in the country, was not only able to limit the cases detected but also arrested the spread well in time with one of the lowest mortality rates.
An Efficient and equitable health system is necessary for such public health emergencies.
Furthermore, selective investment in the infectious disease sector is not enough to meet the demands of the health system in the country.
It was evident how inefficient our public health system was during a pandemic. The fetal and maternal care along with morbid diseases, other infectious and non-infectious diseases were completely ignored during this crisis with attention diverted.
Focused investments with a multi-level approach to cover all aspects of public health is important. Adequate training of healthcare workers and planned investment in education, skill development is need of the hour.
This will raise employment opportunities and boost the economy in return.
Public Health and Economy go hand-in-hand
In contrary to what modern era economist William Baumol describes healthcare as, “a cost disease”, investing in public healthcare pays rich dividends boosting the economy.
Health care investments are falsely seen as expensive expenditures, with a cost rise in services outpacing the value of services and so less return to the economy. In fact, stronger health care leads to a stronger economy with less reaction to public health crises and low mortality and quick responses to public health needs.
WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health (2001) concluded that investments in public health, that is equitable and affordable, yield rich returns of economic dividends.
Investing in the public health system is the need of the hour now. Investing in the primary and public health systems at the time of crisis, like done by East Asian countries soon after the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s was the reason for their economic bouncing back on time and preparing for any future crisis. India too must choose to act on this trajectory and invest in its public health system for better economic growth in the post COVID world.
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