Health for All: transforming economies to deliver what matters

14 June 2023

A few days ago, in conjunction with the Seventy-sixth World Health Assembly, the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All presented a landmark report outlining a new bold path to reorient economies to deliver what matters.

The Council, created by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and chaired by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, proposed a new approach to shape the economy with the objective of building healthy societies that are just, inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

The founding principle is that health is a fundamental human right and for governments and public bodies health and wellbeing must be the ultimate goal of the economic activity.

“The ultimate outcome must be that every person should be able to flourish physically, mentally and emotionally, endowed with the capabilities to lead a life of dignity, opportunity and community, as part of a healthy living planet. This is Health for All”

If we are to achieve true human and planetary flourishing, we need a new narrative that transforms financing for health from an expenditure to an investment in a “healthy society”.

“We need to reorient economic policies away from measures like GDP and towards what really matters: well-being and health for all”

The purpose of investing in health is not to increase GDP or economic productivity; economic activity must be in service to human and planetary health. Currently, health spending is treated as a cost rather than a long-term investment. This is also the key reason why the cost of inaction – not investing in health – is many multiples of the cost of action. By not investing, we end up spending more on all the social costs that result from an unhealthy population.

“Taking pre-emptive action to address the social and economic determinants of health should always be seen as an investment and not a cost. At the same time, it is worth noting that it is more cost effective to prevent than to cure”

The WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All has outlined the path needed to rethink the economy towards what really matters, and developed a new narrative that spans across 4 main themes:

  1. Value – valuing and measuring what matters through new economic metrics. It is crucial to value and measure the things that truly matter – human and planetary flourishing – rather than pursuing economic growth and GDP maximization regardless of the consequences

  2. Finance – how to finance health for all as a long-term investment, not a short-term cost; A fundamental overhaul of national and international systems for financing health is needed, requiring both more money, and higher quality financing

  3. Innovation – how to advance health innovation for the common good; A new end-to-end health innovation ecosystem that prioritises the common good is needed

  4. Capacity – how to strengthen dynamic public sector capacity to achieve health for all. Re-investing in government capacity is crucial to delivering Health for All

Economics has, until now, measured the price of everything and the value of nothing. That needs to change.

“If Health for All is the overall goal, then the economy must be repurposed to serve it”

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