Health and economy: a 'trade-off'?

The balance between economy and health is a delicate one, but a robust health sector requires a strong economy. Letting the economy crumble today, will be paid in time with the collapse of health.

The current crisis has demonstrated the importance of betting on a robust National Health System that can tackle a nationwide problem, brought to the forefront, and paradoxically, a political discourse centered on the idea that it is necessary to make a choice between economics and health .

Government options would be subject to a trade-offs, with decision-makers having to choose between benefiting the economy leading to impaired health, or benefiting health at the expense of the economy. Even knowing the complexity of any crisis, the solution to the current one has repeatedly insisted on a single dimension, as if, in practice, it was possible to compartmentalize our existence in watertight areas.

There is no dichotomy between economy and health, both of which are extraordinarily important and require a good articulation. The relationship between levels of GDP per capita and a set of well-being indicators is more than evident on a global scale.

In your Daily Chart of November 16, The Economist magazine analyzed how rich countries, with Japan at the top, are extremely vulnerable to the pandemic, with the highest fatality rates due to infection by Covid-19, as a result of the high average age of their populations. The lowest of these indicators was reported by Uganda, with an average age of its population of around 17 years.

In general, with better health systems and higher levels of development, the wealthiest economies also have the world's oldest populations, a positive effect of their focus on the health sector. Ironically, its longevity, achieved with years of investment in the prevention and treatment of diseases, but also in better nutrition and even sport and leisure, resulted in its greatest vulnerability.

However, it is also the development of its health sector that has allowed these fatality rates to not be even higher, as would most likely happen in Uganda, if this country had the average age of Japan.

According to INE, in Portugal the average life expectancy at birth went from 67,1 years in 1970 to 80,9 years in 2018. This notable jump in the longevity indicator was a civilizational achievement, but also an economic one, being the result of sustained investment in a national universal health system, made possible by the mobilization of economic resources for this purpose.

The economic growth of the last 50 years has made it possible to expand spending on public goods such as education and health, improving the quality of life of the general population. At the same time, it was also an increasingly educated population, with access to medical care and, therefore, on average, increasingly healthy, which became progressively more productive, accelerating the growth of the country's economy.

Production grew as a result of investment in physical capital, but also in human capital, which, conceived in a broad sense, encompasses the concept of health capital.

It is not possible to solve the health problem without the economy, just as a healthy economy requires a healthy population and today it is still fueled by health expenditures, a trend that will tend to increase with population aging. It is vital to sustain and even strengthen the NHS - the mainstay of the response to the pandemic - of one of the world's longest-lived economies, but this task will be all the more difficult the more pronounced the breakdown of economic activity.

The difficulties will be less in the short term, as long as the memory of the pandemic is present, tolerating the inevitable worsening of the public deficit. In the longer term, the heralds of balancing public accounts and protecting the private sector will soon be seen and will then suggest shrinking the inefficient And reduce your health care expenses.

The balance between economy and health is a delicate one, but a robust health sector requires a strong economy. Letting the economy crumble today, will be paid in time with the collapse of health.

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