Note for the press

Investing in health is vital for sustained economic development in eastern Europe and central Asia
London, 6 July 2007

A new book by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the World Health Organization and the University of Padua, presented today in London, demonstrates the enormous costs for many eastern European and central Asian countries of insufficient efforts to meet their huge health challenges. By means of a set of new analyses, it demonstrates how ill health leads to reduced productivity and earnings and how, in the future, the poor health in this region will likely act as a drag on economic growth.

In a world where most countries are seeing longer life spans, this region stands out as having many countries with stagnating or declining life expectancy. For example, male life expectancy in Belarus in 2004 was 62.7 years, down nearly 1.5 years since 1960. Russian males fare even worse, with life expectancy now below 59 years. Yet the region is largely overlooked in the global health arena, receiving much less development assistance for health than would be expected given its levels of health and income. Nor have the governments concerned given sufficient priority to health; what funds have been made available have done little to reduce the substantial, and often increasing, disparities in health and healthcare access between the rich and the poor within countries.

Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the book's authors, said: "There has long been tremendous scope for improving health in this region. What we add here is evidence that doing something about it would bring tangible, and substantial, economic benefits, on top of the obvious health benefits."

The book quantifies the various ways in which individuals, households and economies pay a heavy price for the largely avoidable burden of disease. Chronic illness, for instance, reduces the probability that a person will work by between 7% (Georgia) and 30% (Kazakhstan). Even the most conservative estimates indicate that if we could reduce a country's adult mortality from today's very high rates by only 2% annually over 25 years, the economic gain would account for 25-40% of its current total income.

Marc Suhrcke, an economist with the WHO European Office and another of the authors added: "Sustained economic growth over decades is sorely needed in the region to raise the 60 million people out of absolute poverty and protect its more than 150 million from economic vulnerability. Investing in health offers a hitherto neglected opportunity to help achieve just that, although it is of course not a panacea. What we see as an upsurge of economic growth in recent years in several of these countries is more a correction of the earlier huge economic decline and cannot be sustained. There is thus no reason at all for complacency."

The book points to a way forward by discussing the role of government and by reviewing the available evidence on interventions to improve health in the region. In particular, it lays out the economic rationale for a government role in tackling chronic diseases - which account for the greatest share of the disease burden in this region. It also highlights the potential for addressing health determinants outside the conventional health system, for instance, by improving the quality of governance and by fostering social capital, two areas where most countries in the region have much scope for improvement.

Health: a vital investment for economic development in Eastern Europe and Central Asiaby Marc Suhrcke, Lorenzo Rocco, Martin McKee,
published by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies,Observatory Studies and Occasional Series (2007)

Marc Suhrcke, PhD, is an economist with the WHO European Office for Investment for Health and Development in Venice, Italy, where he is in charge of the Health and Economic Development workstream. His main research interests are the economic consequences of health, the economics of prevention and the socioeconomic determinants of health.

Lorenzo Rocco, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Economics with the University of Padua in Italy. He obtained his PhD from the University of Toulouse I in 2005. His main fields of research are development economics and health economics.

Martin McKee, CBE, MD, DSc, is Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), where he codirects the School's European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition. He is also a research director at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. His main fields of research include health systems, the determinants of disease in populations and health policy, all with a focus on eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies

The European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies supports and promotes evidence-based health policy-making through comprehensive and rigorous analysis of the dynamics of health systems in Europe. The Observatory is a partnership of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the Governments of Belgium, Finland, Greece, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, the Veneto Region of Italy, the European Investment Bank, the Open Society Institute, the World Bank, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
The Press Launch will take place on 6th July 2007 (from 10 till 11.30) in the Bennett Room at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT.

The book can now be downloaded from but there is an embargo on reviews until 6th July.

For more information please contact:
Lindsay Wright
Press Officer
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Keppel Street
London WC1E 7HT UK
T: +44 20 7927 2073

Willy Palm, Dissemination Development Officer
European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies
WHO European Centre for Health Policy
Zelfbestuursstraat 4 rue de l'Autonomie
B - 1070 Brussels
T: +32-(0)2-525 09 35
F: +32-(0)2-525 09 36

Ms Liuba Negru
Press and Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8,
DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
T: +45 3917 1344
F: +45 3917 1880