NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Economic Growth Could Improve Health in Poor Countries

March 22, 2002

A study of public health and health care needs in developing countries (Science, March 15, 2002) concludes that millions of deaths could be prevented if developed countries and poor countries themselves spent an additional $40 billion to $52 billion a year by 2015 in 83 low-income and sub-Saharan African countries.

The money is required to build the medical and public health infrastructure necessary to implement widespread programs that can significantly reduce mortality, such as immunizations and medical assistance during childbirth, say researchers.

However, in the British Medical Journal, Daniel J Ncayiyana, editor of the South African Medical Journal, notes that the World Health Organization has identified poverty in Africa as "the single biggest threat to health," and Africa's top priority must therefore be economic growth. Opening national economies to globalization is an important means to that end.

  • In Vietnam, according to David Dollar of the World Bank, the proportion of the population in poverty fell from 75 percent in 1988 to 37 percent in 1999 as the country "opened up to foreign trade."
  • Other poor countries have made major health improvements with relatively inexpensive programs; for instance, the poor Indian state of Kerala has achieved health indicators almost comparable to those of the United States despite a per capita income that is 99 percent less and despite spending on health that is $28 per capita compared with $3,925 in the United States.
  • China, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka have made similarly impressive gains.

Poor countries should concentrate health resources on improving access to inexpensive preventive interventions, rather than expensive technology, says Ncayiyana. He notes that the ban on dicophane (DDT) -- a cheap and highly effective weapon against malaria -- cost millions of African lives, whereas no African has ever died from its normal use.

Source: Daniel J Ncayiyana, editor, South African Medical Journal, "Africa can solve its own health problems," Editorials, British Medical Journal, March 23, 2002; Prabhat Jha, "Improving the Health of the Global Poor," Science, March 15, 2002.

For BMJ text

For Science


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