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The Importance of Investing in Better Health

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Around the world, strategic investments in health not only deliver better health and improve well-being for more people, but also bolster economies, create jobs, and enhance personal productivity. In other words, investing in health is a vital economic and societal catalyst.

In December, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on this very topic, focused on the role of health care investments in social and economic development – hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and featuring a mix of high-level policymakers, industry stakeholders, academics and business leaders.

The symbiotic relationship among health, development, and stability was a central topic of discussion during the panel – and one that I examined closely in a white paper I recently co-authored with Precision Health Economics, An Examination of the Literature on the Impact of Health on Development: Assessing the Economic and Societal Yield of Investments in Health Care. The research we conducted found a strong relationship between improvements in health and potential economic and social gains. However, converting this potential into realized gains is dependent on the presence of what we refer to as “translational institutions” – social or economic institutions essential for turning health gains into productivity and welfare gains, such as educational opportunities, access to open markets, vital infrastructure and transportation.

I was joined by four esteemed policy experts and leaders in the economic and health sectors, who shared their perspectives and unique insights into this relationship.

Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute began with an examination of the enduring and equalizing relationship among human productivity, economic development and life expectancy in the modern era. He argues that over the past century, the world-wide explosion in life expectancy has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. More simply put, the higher the life expectancy at birth, the lower the inequality in age at death, leading to a more balanced distribution of the gains from economic development across population age groups.

Nancy Lee, deputy chief executive officer at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), spoke to the need for multidimensional health solutions and highlighted how MCC examines the most binding constraints to growth in any given country to inform its multi-sector, country-specific investments. She emphasized that for an investment to be effective, it must be multifaceted and address the underlying causes.

World Bank Senior Economist Dr. Ajay Tandon presented on the relationship among health outcomes, economic growth and development and health systems – defined as a set of institutions and policies designed to improve health. Dr. Tandon underlined that when health systems work, they reduce household vulnerability, but when they are financed or set up incorrectly they can negatively impact the economy and place undue fiscal burdens on the government.

Michael Gerson Op-Ed Columnist for the Washington Post and Policy Fellow for the ONE Campaign, offered insights on the political side of health decisions, specifically focusing on two successful presidential interventions: U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative. Gerson discussed that interventions such as these – often specific to a health emergency and focused on treatment and vaccines – can dramatically reduce deaths from a disease and are necessary to boost economic development. He emphasized how important health systems and structures can be to a country’s well-being – even as those systems and structures are unfortunately often subject to shifting political agendas and changes in policy.

Several key themes emerged during our robust discussion, including the important opportunities created by investments in health, and other factors that play a critical role in growing economies – such as infrastructure and education. The conversation underlined the significance of working simultaneously across all sectors through public-private partnerships that help to further innovation and make sustainable impacts on health. Johnson & Johnson looks forward to continuing its contribution to this important ongoing discussion, working collaboratively to meet global health needs that benefit not only the individual but also the community as a whole.

To learn more about the important relationship between health and wealth, visit

Ashoke Bhattacharjya is Executive Director, Global Health Policy, Johnson & Johnson. He is engaged in projects related to the policy analyses of international health systems, healthcare financing, the economics of innovation and pricing. He has also held a variety of positions within Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate, Janssen and J&J Medical Device groups’ research, medical affairs and business development units. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson in 1996, he worked as an economist in Pfizer’s Corporate Strategic Planning and Policy Division. Dr. Bhattacharjya was an Asst Professor/Lecturer in the Economics Department of Columbia University as well as Instructor at NYU’s Stern School of Business at various times from 1990 to 1994. He received his PhD in Economics from Columbia University. Dr Bhattacharjya is current Chair of the International Market Access and Pricing Committee of PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturer’s Association). In addition, he was also past Chair of ISPOR’s Asia Consortium Industry Committee.

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