Thinking of African Countries — Prioritising health for development sake
By Tumi Sotire
Healthcare should be prioritised because, in comparison to other regions of the world, there is still a lot of work to be done. According to the United Nations, the African continent has the highest mortality rates. Also, it is the only continent where the number of deaths from infectious disease is still greater than deaths from chronic disease (1,2 ) . The African Health Agenda reports that the African continent accounts for 11% of the global population but, only accounts for 3% of the global health workforce. The continent has 24% of the world’s global health burden however, receives 1% of the world’s global investment into health (3).
Health is a human right. Everyone deserves to have high quality healthcare as the current director General of the World Health stated:
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, and political belief, economic or social condition” (4) .
As well as being a human right, the strong relationship between health, economic growth and development implies that expenditure on health should be seen as investment. It is widely documented that there is a positive correlation between health and economic growth (5, 6. 7). Countries with the strongest economies (measured using Gross Domestic Product, GDP) tend to have a higher life expectancy at birth as shown by the Preston curve below (8). Each spot on the graph represents a country. Somé et al. reported that if life expectancy increased by 9.4 years, this would result in 1% increase in real GDP per capita. Furthermore, the study also showed that a 10 % increase in healthcare expenditure leads to an average increase of GDP by 0.24 % per year(9).
Before we go into explaining the bi-directional relationship, it is important to stress that there are many metrics for economic growth and improvement in health. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Due to the complexities of both health and the economy, untangling all the reasons to justify this relationship is beyond the scope of this blog.
A country’s productive labour force is a key component to any economy. Labour is described as one of the four factors of production. A healthier population would make the labour force more productive. An increase in life expectancy would mean that individuals in the population work for longer. A healthier population would spend more time at work rather than at home or in the hospital and would therefore produce more. Health can therefore be seen as capital in the economy.
An increase in economic growth may cause a government’s tax revenue to increase due to the fact that more people are in work and pay more tax. This increase in government expenditure may cause the government to increase their spending on health eventually causing economic growth. This assumes that the nation in question has a credible tax system to generate a high tax revenue. We also assume that the government is not corrupt and would actually spend tax revenue on the needs of the population, especially health. The extent to which an increase in tax revenue benefits healthcare depends on whether the government spends additional revenue on health and how this revenue is allocated.
Average incomes may increase due to economic growth. An increase in economic growth means that individuals are more likely to pay for healthcare services they couldn’t afford previously. Whether that may be out of pocket expenditure or an insurance contribution. The extent to which an increase in income would lead to an increased demand for health may be minimal. Health, regardless of income, is an inelastic good meaning that demand for health would remain high irrespective of changes of income.
Given the positive socioeconomic consequences of health on the African continent, improving health should be a priority in the conversations of African development. However, the multifaceted, multidisciplinary nature of health makes improving healthcare very complex. Healthcare in Africa is a great example of the phenomenon which is a basic economic problem: Infinite wants combined with limited resources.
5) R (2018) Health and economic growth: Evidence from dynamic panel data of 143 years. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0204940.
6) I Casasnovas, G.L., Rivera, B. and Currais, L. eds., 2005. Health and economic growth: findings and policy implications. Mit Press.
9) Somé, J., Pasali, S. and Kaboine, M., 2019. Exploring the Impact of Healthcare on Economic Growth in Africa. Applied Economics and Finance, 6(3), pp.45–57.