A new report made by a team of Harvard researchers proposes a set of measures aimed at leveling the health ground in the world by 2035. The authors envision a grand convergence, namely closing the most egregious equity gaps we still have between poor and rich populations around the world. Isn’t offering the same health benefits to everyone, indifferent of their income, too expensive? The authors conclude that the resulting changes could save 10 million people and bring economic benefits between 9 and 20 times the initial cost, as a result of people living longer and healthier.
Bridging the health gap between the poor and the rich
Some of the measures proposed include doubling investments for health-related research and development, a better family planning strategy, and increased taxes on certain harmful substances like tobacco, alcohol and even sugar. The latter would have a double benefit; increasing taxes would provide additional income for health investments while at the same deter people from consuming unhealthy substances. A 50 percent tax on tobacco, for example, could prevent 20 million deaths in China alone over the next 50 years, and generate $20 billion, the report said.
“This is a once-in-human-history opportunity,” said Harvard economist and Charles W. Eliot University Professor Lawrence Summers, lead author of the report. “It used to be that life expectancies were quite similar around the world, and very short. Then there’s been very substantial divergence in different parts of the world, in mortality rates and life expectancy. Now we have an opportunity for a reconvergence at very favorable levels.”
“Once-in-human history opportunity”
The report, titled “Global Health 2035: A World Converging within a Generation,” is nothing short of ambitious but the authors claim it’s totally feasible if the world governments’ wish it so. The annual price tag for the project to meet its target goal is estimated at $70 billion – nothing short of a huge sum, however the scientists involved in the report claim that the figure is between 1 and 3 percent of the estimated developing nations’ economic growth that would result.
“The basic message … is that good investments in health, are good in themselves, but they also promote economic growth,” Frenk said. “The main idea is that by 2035 we can achieve what’s called a grand convergence, namely closing the most egregious equity gaps we still have between poor and rich populations around the world.”
Concerning research and development, these should target infectious diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, as well as ailments common in developing countries referred to as “neglected tropical diseases”, according to the report.
Overall, Summers and colleagues conclude that while some technical challenges remain these are far from being intractable and that the major roadblocks to improving global health are political and practical.
“As we’ve been reminded in the United States over the last six weeks, it’s not all about policy design, it’s also about policy execution,” Summers said. “It is a great opportunity, but nothing good happens automatically.”