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3 ways India can improve its health

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A healthy population is the engine behind sustainable economic growth. For India, the health of its population must be central to the agenda for its government, business leaders and communities. Why?

Firstly, an unhealthy population is expensive. It increases government expenditure, reduces the amount of taxable household income due to ill people falling out of the workforce and, through increased morbidity rates, it also increases rates of early retirement (with additional costs incurred by social support systems and families).

Governments may be tempted to increase tax rates to meet the rising cost of healthcare, but doing so depresses aggregate demand, further limits the growth potential of the economy and reduces the public sector’s ability to invest in other areas. According to a new report by the World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health, India stands to lose $4.58 trillion to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and mental disorders between 2012 and 2030.

This number is far too high to be ignored.

Secondly, an unhealthy population is a liability for business, and the Indian business community knows it. This fact is highlighted in a survey (part of the health report) which indicates that there is near-universal concern among Indian business executives – between 94% (2013) and 97% (2010) – over the five-year impact of one or more non-communicable disease (NCDs).

The highest levels of concern are related to heart disease and diabetes and between 33% (2013) and 42% (2010) of business leaders reported “somewhat serious to very serious concerns” with the impact of NCDs on their business. The negative impact of NCDs on output, revenue, profitability, business performance and the potential for economic growth can be substantial.

NCDs can impede workforce productivity by raising rates of absenteeism, diminishing the energy and focus of workers, and depleting critical workplace skills. In addition, the business community is likely to be concerned about the impact of NCDs on the costs of both life and health insurance, and the size and purchasing power of their current and prospective customer bases.

Thirdly, investing in healthy populations pays off for businesses, governments, communities and (most importantly) individuals. Primary prevention of NCDs through early screening and effective healthcare infrastructure has numerous benefits. Interventions that focus on screening (in the case of hypertension), vaccination (in the case of human papillomavirus), reduced tobacco use and treatment of depression and anxiety disorders are particularly promising.

Indian business executives also understand the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, as many companies are designing and implementing programmes to prevent and control NCDs among their workforces.

This is a worthwhile investment, and a critical part of this focus will be purposeful collaboration among the public sector, private sector and civil society to combat NCDs.

During the India Economic Summit, industry leaders will meet with key decision-makers from government, civil society and academia in a series of public and private sessions focused on answering: how should we invest to deliver and capitalize on a healthier India? In doing so, they will discuss the economic benefits of healthy populations and identify powerful mechanisms for investing in healthcare.

We are at a crossroads in India’s development. The summit will provide a platform to advance the agenda on how the government will care for its citizens and how businesses will make the most of our improved well-being.

More on India and health

What if Ebola spreads to India?
Improving the health of India’s poorest
Can we create a healthy future for India?

Author: Arnaud Bernaert is senior director of Global Health and Healthcare Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Indian boy gets polio vaccine from a doctor in New Delhi REUTERS/Kamal Kishore

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Jobs and the Future of WorkGeographies in DepthFinancial and Monetary Systems
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