Economic Policy

Lack of Health Services, an Impediment to Economic Growth

Access to healthcare and universal healthcare have been at the fore of global health debates in recent years. Ana Zhelyazkova examines how access to health services can prove to be an important factor in the economic growth of a country.


In the context of developing countries, access to health services can prove to be important factor for improving the productivity of the labor force. Aside from accessing health services, averting untimely maternal and infant deaths remains on the top of the international global health agenda. With maternal mortality being viewed as a lead indicator for development, it is important to consider the infallible link between global health and economic development.

“Development can only be lasting when societies are provided with fundamental public services such as healthcare”, highlighted former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a special meeting on Ebola in 2015. These words easily summarize the complex interrelation between health and development – inadequate or lack of access and quality of healthcare hinder the individual and the societal work capacity. These can very directly lead to shortage of manpower needed by the private sector to keep up with the demands of economic development and, thus, interfere with the ability of the public sector, health included, to provide the population with many necessary services.

The circular dependency between development and health is most visible through the example of Sub-Saharan Africa with the region leading global statistics in poverty and maternal mortality. Maternal mortality is considered by the WHO to be a lead indicator for development, which is also reflected by the focus on improving maternal health set with the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. Deriving from the mutually recursive relation between health and development, achieving universal health care has become the top priority for the global community with an emphasis on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

The global push for universal health care was given in 2010 by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the launch of the Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) movement, promoting international and national action by governmental, multilateral, private and civil society actors. Just for the period between launching the movement and 2015, EWEC registered an approximate number of 2.4 million averted maternal and under-five deaths. In support of the cause and to advance achieving universal health coverage through eliminating maternal, child and adolescent mortality, in 2015 the World Bank Group (WBG) established the Global Financing Facility (GFF). The GFF materializes the health-development circular dependency and puts it into financial perspective: estimates show that mortality from preventable causes is largely caused by a gap in financing amounting to $33.3 billion in 2015. Through a new model of “smart financing” the GFF is set to effectively distribute resources and reduce this gap to $7.4 billion by 2030, ultimately limiting the need for global health investments in low- and lower-middle-income countries by 15% (equivalent to more than $6 billion per year). The model is estimated to save up to $83.5 billion worth of investments for the period 2015-2030.

A success story and a positive example for the bidirectional relation of health and development serves as a sample for the global GFF model: the Maldives. In 2011, the country graduated from the list of LDCs based on the increased Gross Net Income (GNI) and Human Asset Index (HAI). Within the GNI and HAI indexes, the item accounting to most for the improvement is namely the percentage of under-five mortality rate (per 1,000 live birth), which decreased staggeringly from 59.3 in 2009 to 10.0 in 2015. In a direct association, the public health expenditure of the small tropical nation increased to 10,8% of GDP and out-of-pocket expenditure has consistently decreased, positioning the Maldives in front of far more developed countries regarding those indicators. In 2016, the Maldives’ continuous investment and international cooperative work in improving healthcare access and quality made the republic the first officially certified malaria-free country in the South-East Asian Region. Subsequently, the country’s GDP growth rate has also increased, from 3.3% in 2015 to 4.6% in 2017. The correlation between investment and improvements in healthcare is undeniable. For developing countries, the circular dependency between economic growth and improvements in healthcare can prove to be the missing link in improving the health and wealth of an under-developed or developing country.

However, the push does not stop there. Moving towards a universal healthcare system that is premised on improving ease of access can prove to be a boon for developed countries as well. Recurring healthcare issues can just as well debilitate labor forces in developed countries where the population faces barriers to accessing health care. For both developed and under-developed countries, economic growth will be heavily dependent on providing the labor force adequate access to healthcare.

Ana Zhelyazkova is a student in the Master of Public Health program of Ludwig-Maximilians University. She also serves as Social Engagement Coordinator for the Association for UN Interns, New York, student employee at the Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy and volunteer for the German branch of Médecins du Monde.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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