A healthy economy depends on healthy people
As a second COVID-19 wave engulfs the world, some political leaders seem to be more concerned about the economy than health.
However, while this pandemic is expected to shrink the global economy by as much as 8 per cent of real GDP, poor health costs twice as much – about 15 per cent of global real GDP. Research published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) shows that an increase in life expectancy at birth from 40 years to 60 raises GDP per capita by 15 per cent over the long term. In Mexico, health was responsible for nearly one-third of economic growth between 1970-1995.
So, if it is a known fact that good health drives the economy, why are some political leaders focusing on protecting the economy rather than protecting the health of their citizens?
Economic losses during this pandemic have not been solely because of lockdowns and restrictions but also because employees were diagnosed with COVID-19. Many stores and business centres in Canada and around the world were closed because staff was affected by the coronavirus. Thus, people who advocate against lockdowns and restrictions should understand that their businesses will perform better only when they have healthy employees and healthy customers.
Economies have suffered great losses but deteriorating health will exacerbate this condition. Therefore, it is high time that politicians and businessmen make health the top priority.
When I asked my neighbour who runs a business in the downtown core about the impacts of COVID-19, he said while his profits will decline by more than 50 per cent this year, he is happy that no one from his family has been infected so far. Another close friend, worried about his parents living in a long-term care (LTC) home where some deaths were reported, is delighted he pulled them out and is sharing his home and income with them.
We all love our families and friends. We all want to be safe and happy. For this, what all of us need is support and guidance from our leaders to protect us. The fight against coronavirus is no less than a war. Policymakers and leaders must create awareness in the fight against COVID-19 by sharing evidence-based knowledge. They should strive to develop a network of connections in our health system between LTC homes, ambulatory care centres and acute care centres. Our high mortality among LTC residents must be investigated thoroughly and addressed immediately given our poor results compared to that of other OECD nations.
Instead of focusing on short-term goals and plans, we should be working on strategies for the next five to 10 years. If we can protect people from the pandemic for two years, the likely time frame before vaccines are developed and distributed, the economy will recover thereafter.
Three factors must be taken into account when formulating plans and strategies: involvement, collaboration and implementation. Input from all stakeholders should be included in planning for a common strategy to contain the virus and keep people safe for these two years. Healthcare, political and business leaders must collaborate with each other and with other local, national and international organizations. And they must work together to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines.
This is not an argument against protecting the economy or making it more progressive. Income, as the most important determinant of health, plays a vital role in keeping us healthy. However, we should keep in mind that economic recovery is possible but the loss of life is irreversible.