Rethinking health at the 74th United Nations General Assembly

WHO/Laurent Cipriani

A side event at the 74th United Nations General Assembly demonstrated how health expenditure drives sustainable and inclusive growth rather than being a drain on the economy.

A recent side event at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, co-hosted by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and WHO, has demonstrated how health expenditure drives sustainable and inclusive growth rather than being a drain on the economy.

Following the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Care on 23 September, guests were invited to this presentation of new research by the Observatory, illustrating the strong economic and social arguments for investing in health.

Peter C Smith, Professor of Health Policy at Imperial College London set the scene, presenting data on how well-directed health spending produces better health outcomes, as well as increasing productivity and earning potential. He further elaborated on how health and health systems contribute to well-being by protecting individuals and families from financial hardship, reducing poverty and inequity, and supporting social cohesion.

The research shows that the health sector accounts for an average of 8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in G20 countries, making it an important part of the economy and creating jobs and opportunities for innovation and trade. The health sector plays a crucial role in keeping people economically active and independent, something that is increasingly important as populations age. There is now good evidence to show that efficient spending on health and health systems both creates economic and fiscal benefits and is central to the broader well-being of the population.

A panel debate followed on the cross-cutting themes of ageing, well-being and the economy. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director Elect for Europe, opened the session emphasising the need to reframe health as part of the solution to resource allocation, not the problem. He was joined on the panel by Maria Luisa Carcedo, Minister of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare in Spain; Krista Kiuru, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services in Finland; and outgoing European Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, who all contributed insights into how health is a positive part of sustainability. Finland and Spain are 2 of the countries leading the charge on reframing investment in health, in terms of the “economy of well-being” and the “silver economy”. Observatory Director, Josep Figueras, moderated the discussion and stressed the need to combine values and economics in health debates. The session was closed by Agnes Soucat, Director for Health Systems, Governance and Financing at WHO.