A thriving health sector key source of growth in an economy

BY BENARD AYIEKO The Constitution guarantees every Kenyan the right to basic healthcare. On its website, the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for healthcare services management, describes its vision and mission as ‘A healthy, productive and globally competitive nation’ and ‘To build a progressive, responsive and sustainable healthcare system for accelerated attainment of the highest standard of health to all Kenyans’ respectively. The ministry’s goal is ‘Attaining equitable, affordable, accessible and quality health care for all’ and its key mandate is to; formulate a national health policy, regulate operations in the health industry, manage national referral health facilities, promote capacity building and to offer technical assistance to counties in the context of devolution of healthcare facilities. But how important is the health sector to an economy? Health economists have argued that there is a well-understood correlation between the sound health of citizens and economic growth of a nation, so much so that it’s believed that as the health of its citizens improves, so does the economy. Improving the healthcare of citizens directly results in economic growth, because it creates a healthy pool of workers who are energetic to participate in activities that generate income. It’s these activities that generate income to an economy that is usually incorporated in the calculation of a country’s Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product that captures the true monetary value of an economy. Lately, the role of the health sector has emerged as a key driver for economic growth. In public finance, the sector is a major recipient of public revenues from annual government budgets. In developed countries, the ministry of health receives huge allocations compared to other ministries. This goes to inform you that nations care about the (good) health of their people. Even though people are generally aware of the budgetary allocations for the health sector (now a devolved function), there is less understanding of its economic benefits. Healthcare commentators argue that a thriving health sector delivers three major economic benefits to an economy; creation of jobs, increase productivity and promotes innovation. First, in developing countries where the rate of unemployment is unprecedented – estimated at over 40%, a thriving health sector is deemed to be a major source of jobs for graduates of health sciences courses such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, among others. You need to flip through the list of graduands at every graduation ceremony of universities and colleges in Kenya every year for you to come to terms with this harsh reality. Besides the physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers, the sector employes clerical and administrative staff who contribute significantly to the creation of wealth of these nations. Second, the health sector contributes to a more productive and engaged workforce in an economy. On productivity, it determines how efficient goods and services are produced in an economy, which is the single most important determinant of a country’s income per capita in the long run. In fact, countries with high productivity have a superior standard of living and a highly motivated workforce. This means that for a country to realize growth driven by a thriving healthcare services sector, the government must invest heavily in the sector in order to improve labour productivity that is needed to improve and sustain a given standard of living that is productive in the economy. Finally, the sector is a major source of innovation – a pillar of science and technology research. It’s at the fore and aft of putting the results of research to work. The advancements in life sciences have resulted in additional economic output of trillions of dollars that exceeds health research and healthcare costs over the same period by orders of magnitude globally. Therefore, countries should prioritize the wellbeing of their healthcare systems and place them at the heart of their national economy and innovation system, both as a contributor of inputs and as an attractor or demander of its outputs. In the end, a thriving healthcare sector creates more value and benefits that lead to sustainable economic growth and development.

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