From employment and education to climate change and gender equality, ‘Health for All Policies’ allows much needed progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals
Investing in better health and health policies helps not only people’s health and health systems but also the policy objectives in other sectors and, ultimately, the economy and society as a whole.
‘Making Health for All Policies’, a new policy brief by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and the WHO Regional Office for Europe, reveals concrete win-win solutions for multiple sectors, making investment in health and health systems more appealing to policy-makers.
Health is wealth: the contribution of health systems to the well-being economy
The policy brief, which was launched during the WHO/Europe High-Level Forum on Health in the Well-Being Economy in Copenhagen, argues that policy-makers should not underestimate the impact of health investments on their economies and societies.
“Better health in itself is important, but we also want to make the case that health has an impact on very important dimensions of well-being” said Josep Figueras, Director of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and facilitator of a session about health co-benefits. Participants included representatives from ministries of health, finance and economy, together with government advisors, public health policy-makers, and other stakeholders from the United Nations and the European Union joined the discussion.
Josep Figueras at the WHO/Europe High-Level Forum on Health in the Well-Being Economy. Credit: WHO
Quantifying benefits of health investments across sectors
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can help to measure the real impacts of health investment in non-health sectors. Ricardo Baptista Leite, President of UNITE – Parliamentarians Network for Global Health used an SDGs dashboard to measure policy success in the Portuguese municipality of Cascais.
“You could see where we were doing well, where we were lagging behind and therefore how we should allocate the funds in the budget,” said Baptista Leite. “But even when policy-makers want to make a difference, they often encounter problems.”
Recognizing that the implementation of real co-benefits can be a challenge, the policy brief suggests that policy-makers bring people and organizations out of silos. Making policies more sustainable also requires simple policy designs where co-benefits are clear.
Progress towards the SDGs was severely damaged by COVID-19, but also showed the interconnectedness between sectors and policy-makers’ ability to integrate policies. In fact, the pandemic was mentioned as one of the best examples of health for all policies.
It also emphasized the importance of health literacy, as reminded by Kristine Sorensen, President of the International Health Literacy Association: “Suddenly we all had to learn about masks, tests and social distancing. Health became a competitive advantage and now we want to build on that. We tend to think that literacy leads to good health but also health leads to better education.”
Hospitals and the health care sector as major contributors to economic growth
It is common to view health care as a consumption good rather than an investment in the wider economy.
Health care alone is a major employer, source of research, and crucial to educational systems. As major emitters of greenhouse gases, for example, hospitals can be a contributor to carbon neutrality and accelerate progress towards climate action (SDG13).
“Understanding ways to invest money for patient care whilst going greener has been an important part of our work,” revealed Dominique Allwood, Director of Population Health at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
The UK-based physician explained how a shift from outsourcing to insourcing hospital staff led to major improvements in staff engagement, as well as significant financial savings, for example by avoiding costs related to the management of external parties
Other SDGs benefitting from health investments include poverty – since health coverage can reduce out-of-pocket payments – and employment. Research presented by Luigi Siciliani, Professor of Health Economics and one of the authors of the policy brief, showed that innovative cancer treatments in Canada improved employment rates and that health insurance coverage in Mexico improved the supply in the informal labour market.