Investing in Healthcare: A Key to Breaking the Cycle of Poverty


SEATTLE — On the path to promoting the third of the 17 Sustainable Development Goal to be achieved by 2030, which the U.N. defines as “ensuring healthy lifestyles and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” the World Health Organization released a joint report along with the World Bank and Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development. The report claims that the current poor state of healthcare systems worldwide is increasing the incidence of illness and proportion of health costs for all governments. Investing in healthcare hence becomes an important part of achieving the goal.

The Need for Investments in Global Health

Poverty and health are inextricably linked to each other; poverty can be a major hindrance to healthcare access, while poor health is also a major cause of poverty. Finances can act as a burden, as the poor cannot afford healthcare services or the food and medicines needed to lead a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, healthcare is but one of the many challenges developing nations are trying to overcome. As a result, governments can only allocate a limited amount of funds towards the sector, making healthcare a luxury for the well-off.

World Bank data shows that 100 million people fall into extreme poverty annually due to excessive health expenses. When people spend more on healthcare, they spend less on nutrition, education and other necessities. They might even be forced to sell valuables or borrow money at high interest rates to make up for their expenditure. Some families might choose not to spend money on healthcare at all and get family members to take care of a sick relative in lieu of working or going to school, robbing the country of potential human capital.

The lack of funding in the healthcare sector not only contributes to high costs for patients, but also to increased misdiagnoses, medication errors and unhygienic clinical practices. It is estimated that 10 percent of patients hospitalized in low and middle-income countries are at risk of contracting an infection that will worsen their condition during the treatment period. This susceptibility to other illnesses can further increase the burden of healthcare costs on a family.

The lack of adequately trained healthcare professionals can also lead to hospitals placing too many responsibilities on the shoulders of few doctors, or even on practitioners who might not be adequately equipped for the tasks. In seven low and middle-income African countries, it was found that accurate diagnoses were only made between one-third to three-quarters of the time and that internationally established clinical guidelines were adhered to in less than 45 percent of the cases. All these circumstances can drive poor families further into the poverty trap.

Better Healthcare Directly Related to Poverty Reduction

According to the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, the benefits of an improved healthcare system are worth 10 times the cost of restructuring it. Investing in healthcare has the potential to contribute to domestic resources and increase health insurance coverage for the poor at a minimal fee or through subsidized medical service charges. Investments are also key to improving the quality of existing healthcare systems to minimize misdiagnoses. Governments may even choose to reinvest the money into providing better training to individuals seeking to work in the field. This ensures that the nurses handling the patients, doctors prescribing the drugs and the operators of local medical stores are well-qualified to play their role in a patient’s journey to recovery.

Long-term investments can also unify the availability of health to all people in society. By increasing the number of institutions providing services, even in remote locations, the poor can save on travel costs and be better assisted during emergencies. This can remove the existing social stigma surrounding poverty and help the poor feel like they can exercise their basic human rights. This can lead to a more harmonious society where people are healthier, can improve their qualifications and work to improve their incomes.

How Can the U.S Benefit from Investing in Healthcare?

In today’s globalized world, it is very easy to contract communicable diseases from short trips abroad or infections through imported goods. Investing in healthcare can contain the spread of these illnesses and safeguard the health of an American citizen just as much as that of the people receiving aid. Investing in healthcare can also show the world that the U.S. supports basic human rights, inspiring more countries to take charge and pool their resources to improve the global accessibility of healthcare. Finally, healthy people have higher rates of productivity and consumption, which can boost American exports and earn the U.S. a higher national income.

Investing in healthcare has the benefits of saving many lives while also ending someone’s struggle against poverty. Despite the many benefits that come from it, the United States’ global health funding makes up less than 1 percent of the budget. But with the work of American citizens invested in the cause, this can change for the better.

– Sanjana Subramanian
Photo: Flickr


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