It is always a pleasure to catch up with old friends, in this case Professor Walter Ricciardi at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
After a very pleasant dinner on Walter’s balcony, enjoying a warm October evening and putting the world to right, I left Italy to spend a night in a charming hotel in the Vatican City, just a few hundred yards from St Peter’s Cathedral. Stunning…
However my main reason for going was to speak at a conference on health and the economy. This gave me an opportunity to set out the arguments we developed (with Marc Suhrcke from WHO in Venice and Regina Sauto Arce, Svetla Tsolova, and Jørgen Mortensen at CEPS in Brussels) on the contribution of health to the economy in Europe. Essentially, we all know that being richer leads to better health (generally, as long as you don’t spend the money on cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine or fast cars) but the question is whether better health leads to greater wealth? We do know, from the report of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, that it does in low income countries but these differ from high income countries because:
a) physical strength is more important in agriculture, mining and the like
b) the things that can be done to improve health are relatively easy
We looked at whether healthier people would stay in the workforce longer and would earn more. They do. However the evidence that healthier people saved more (so contributing funds for investment) or invested more in their own education was not so easy to find, which doesn’t mean that it is not the case. We also showed that today’s level of economic development in industrialised countries owes much to the gains in health in the past.
So what odes this mean? Well, if governments accept the case for investing in education and transport infrastructure, then they should invest in health as well.