Economic Benefits: Investing in Women's and Children's Health
For a long time the prevailing view among economists was that the link between health and economic development ran in one direction only. This view was articulated in an influential background paper to the World Development Report 1993 entitled Wealthier is Healthier. It recognized that economic development leads to improved health outcomes through its impact on indirect pathways to health – such as better nutrition, water and sanitation, living environment, and education – but the reverse direction of health’s impact on economic development was not acknowledged.
This paradigm began to shift about 10 years ago, particularly through the work of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health. The Commission demonstrated that the causality runs in both directions and that "healthier is wealthier". For example, a Commission background study by Bloom and Williamson entitled Demographic transitions and economic miracles in East Asia attributed 30-50% of East Asia’s impressive growth in 1965-1990 to reduced infant and child mortality, lower fertility rates, and improved reproductive health.
Two recent publications further illustrate this shift in thinking. Investing in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health - The Case for Asia and the Pacific presents evidence for the economic returns than can be realized from investments in MNCH and health systems. Adding It Up - The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health suggests that investing in family planning and maternal and newborn health would reduce the healthy years of life lost due to disability and premature death among women and their newborn by more than 60%, which would have significant effects on current and future productivity of the labor force.
Convincing stakeholders of why spending on RMNCH should be seen as an investment, and not simply a cost, is critical when raising funds. Developing and presenting economic arguments that resonate with a key player in this arena, the Ministry of Finance, can be particularly important to mobilize additional resources for achieving MDGs 4 and 5.