Covid-19 has come as a glaring reminder that health matters more to individuals, families, society and governments.
This brings us to most of the most critical questions of this century.
Should health be a priority for the government?
Should the government look at reviving the economy first?
The year 2020 is almost coming to a close. Few countries are continuing with partial lockdown while others have gone a hundred per cent functional. In Europe, a difficult situation is unfolding again. The second wave of coronavirus is rising at a higher rate and is a severe cause of worry.
More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10% increase in cases in the past two weeks, according to Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO in Europe.
Strict lockdown imposed in early and mid-2020 helped in containing the virus. With the easing of restrictions, this is likely to increase further endangering lives of millions across the globe.
Where the pandemic goes from here is in our hands. … We have fought it back before, and we can fight back again,” Dr Kluge said.
India continues to battle the pandemic with millions of cases rising every day, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh continue to be the worst affected states in the country.
While many organizations have made remote work compulsory, others have done so until the end of this year. Educational institutions continue to operate remotely.
Small business is reopening or trying to reopen. One visit to a city and you will see thousands of people on the road. Some of them with masks and gloves, others don’t care much now. People have come to realize that we have to live with the situation now.
• We have not been able to control the spread of the disease and have given up.
• Lives of millions will continue to be at risk.
• Elderly will continue to stay indoors for the risk of getting infected
• Children will continue to learn remotely
Addressing coronavirus is not impossible. Countries have done it successfully. New Zealand was one of the countries that managed to control the spread effectively. Australia has done reasonably well. China reopened when there was no threat to lives, and when no new cases were reported. Why is it that India, the US and Europe continue to struggle?
This leads us to a vital question – Is the economy a priority or health a priority?
There is a strong connection between health and the economy. Healthcare performance is dependent on the economy and vice versa. I am sure you realize now that investment in healthcare is the number one priority for every government. It’s sad that it too a pandemic for us to realize this.
In India, it assumes greater significance because of these following reasons.
• Healthcare infrastructure is not up to the mark
• There is a shortage of resources in the healthcare system
• India’s population is ageing at a fast rate.
Despite these factors, India’s healthcare expenditure stands at 3.6 per cent of GDP – lower than other countries. It was much lower till 2018.
Technological advancements and innovations have made radical improvements in global health, improving the quality of life. Improved health means higher productivity, higher income and economic growth.
It is essential to understand that a crisis in health and economy always affects the vulnerable population of the society. A problem of the magnitude of Covid-19 has affected the vulnerable countries more than the developed economies of the world. US and Europe will be fast on their road to recovery post-Covid-19, but it will be more challenging for emerging economies like India to sustain the economy. The cost of ill health is massive on the GDP.
Poor health takes a heavy toll of the society. It also takes a heavy toll of the economy, but it remains invisible. An unhealthy population deteriorates economy further while a robust healthcare system contributes to economic prosperity. Health is an investment for high economic return. Investing in health is as good as investing in education. For each 1$ invested in improving health, there is a possibility of an economic return of 2$ to 4$. When health is given a priority, the growth engine automatically accelerates.
In debates over economic recovery, the focus is mostly on the manufacturing sector, industries, labour force, the need to upskilling and many more. Health has not been a part of the discussions. As we advance, I think governments in every developing economy has realized that health has to be a significant part of the economic growth conversations.
If you prioritize economy over health, you will still not be on the road to prosperity because your population will be mostly unhealthy and not in a position to contribute.
Prevention is less expensive than treatment. Prevention through early behavioural changes, promoting a safe and clean environment, making vaccines affordable and accessible to every individual can decrease the burden by 70 per cent. The rest 30 per cent burden can be reduced by timely treatment of diseases, improving the health infrastructure and enhancing the capacity of healthcare workers.
Taking care of the health needs early in life, and with a focus on prevention, healthcare will no longer be a burden on the economy; rather, it will act as a catalyst of economic growth.