New report: Investing in public health offers large gains in health, the economy and other sectors


From left, Hans Kluge, WHO/Europe; David Hunter, Durham University, UK; Elke Jakubowki, WHO/Europe; and Hanne Tonnesen, WHO Collaborating Centre for Evidence Based Health Promotion in Hospitals and Health Services, Copenhagen, Denmark took part in the launch of ‘The Case for Investing in Public Health’ on 8 July 2015.

Tobacco use reduces overall national income by 3.6%. Obesity accounts for 1–3% of all health expenditure in most countries. These and other surprising facts came to light in a report published by WHO/Europe on the long- and short-term effects of a country's health status on its financial and economic situation.

"The case for investing in public health" describes the direct implications of health in other areas of government in several European countries and throughout the WHO European Region, showing that health should be a significant concern for all government sectors. The report was released during the fourth meeting of the extended advisory group on the European Action Plan on Public Health Capacities and Services (EAP/PHS), held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Dr Elke Jakubowski, Programme Manager for Public Health Services in the Division of Health Systems and Public Health, presented the report, first thanking the authors and contributors, then explaining the broad importance of the report's findings.

"There are four key observations we can make from this study", Dr Jakubowski said. "The first is that increasing costs of ill health will require cost-effective policies. Second, this report provides the evidence for a wide range of cost-effective prevention approaches. Third, investing in public health generates cost-effective health outcomes. And fourth, even small investments promise large gains to health, the economy and other sectors. I believe this is a report we can truly be proud of," she said.

Investing in public health leads to sustainable growth

The case for investing in public health includes the significant current costs of ill health for governments in Europe and the investments that can result in sustainable, sometimes nearly immediate, positive growth in a country. Cost-effective interventions include preventive approaches to the environmental and social determinants of health; such approaches build resilience in communities and promote healthy behaviour in the population, including attendance at screening and vaccination.

"This important report is welcome and timely when governments across Europe are pursuing austerity policies involving deep cuts in public spending. Governments need to be made aware of the value of investing in public health and how cost-effective this investment is", said David Hunter, Chair of the meeting, Professor of Health Policy and Management and Director of the Centre on Public Policy and Health, Durham University, United Kingdom.

The report also outlines the cost of health inequalities and the financial loss that can occur if health threats are not addressed proactively. For example, cancer costs governments and society in the European Union €117 billion per year.

"This report is useful because the health care industry lacks examples of cost-efficiency. This will help us change the perception among doctors on the importance of investing in preventive care", said Miroslav Wysocki, consultant on public health at the National Institute of Public Health in Warsaw, Poland.

"The case for investing in public health" was written by experts at WHO/Europe and the faculty of the Public Health institute in London, United Kingdom. Action on its findings could result in greater cross-sectoral collaboration for health, bring about better fiscal efficiency and enhance the general well-being of individuals in the European Region.

European Action Plan for Strengthening Public Health Capacities and Services

The meeting of the extended advisory group on the European Action Plan for Strengthening Public Health Capacities and Services (EAP/PHS), which served as the setting for the launch, was organized to provide WHO/Europe with feedback and advice after the mid-term review of the European Action Plan. 

The objectives of the meeting included: 

  • agreeing on the method, timetable and content of the interim report of the EAP/PHS, to be presented at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe;
  • brainstorming on effective strategies that keep the EAP/PHS high on the political agenda; and
  • gathering suggestions on the conduct of a new WHO study on organizing and resourcing public health services.