Building fair and efficient health systems is a key to expanding economies and making the world a more secure place, the dean of the world’s oldest school of public health said on Tuesday.
Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, spoke at an event organised by the Asia Society on the importance of health in economic development and global security.
“We live in a world that has epidemic obesity, and still about a billion people go hungry every night to bed,” he said. “And this divide has made the world a dangerous place, because it’s exactly the sort of injustice that creates the atmosphere for extremism, for resentment and for an idea that the world is not a fair place.”
Frenk is former health secretary of Mexico and a former candidate for the top post at the World Health Organisation.
”Obviously, well-nourished children learn better. Healthy teachers don’t need to be absent from school. [Healthier places] improves the investment climate. People don’t want to be in places that have malaria, for example. They want a healthy environment, no air pollution.”
He warned that unproductive health spending has many negative economic effects. They include increasing inflation, reducing productivity and competitiveness, depleting savings, causing bankruptcies, giving rise to inequalities and diverting funds from better social uses.
“We now live [long] enough to develop diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and add to that an unhealthy lifestyle … people start paying for health care and become bankrupt. It’s the case in the United States, in China and in Mexico,” said Frenk.
In Mexico, medical costs forced millions of families into bankruptcy before the new universal health insurance system began last year, said Frenk.
The four main challenges for public health now were pandemics, unhealthy lifestyles leading to chronic diseases, poverty and humanitarian crises, and inefficient health care systems, he said.
Hong Kong faces the further issue of inequality. A study by Oxfam Hong Kong in November found that one out of six people were living at or under the poverty line in the second quarter of last year.
While the city’s public health care system covers 98 per cent of the population, waiting lines can be long for non-emergency procedures.