A GLOBAL HEALTH RESEARCHER DELIVERS THE MESSAGE: HEALTHIER MEANS WEALTHIER
David Bloom, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health
"The United States should increase its investment in global health research because population health is the cornerstone of a strong economy and geopolitical stability is based on the ‘rising tide that lifts all boats'."
An economist, population expert and advocate for global health research, David Bloom, PhD, has added a new dimension to the idea that greater wealth contributes to greater health. Bloom has spent much of his career working to help policymakers fully appreciate the strong mechanisms that operate in the other direction, i.e. that the health of a country's people can promote its economic development. "Population health is a very powerful instrument for promoting a vibrant and growing economy," he says. "Healthier people mean wealthier countries. The more we can do to improve health in other countries, the stronger their economies will be."
Engaged in global health research since the mid 1990s, Bloom's most recent research has focused on the link between childhood vaccines and economic growth. Most economists agree that vaccines reduce diseases in babies and children, lessen medical costs, and enable parents and caregivers to remain at work, contributing economically to society.
Quantifying the rate of return in terms of lifetime wages and ultimately a country's economy is more difficult. Still, we know that "vaccinated kids have better cognitive development, are more likely to attend school, are more physically fit, and are more productive as adults," he says. Having a healthier population produces significant benefits beyond just reducing medical costs. Bloom notes, for example, a 10-year gain in life expectancy (a good overall measure of a population's health) can yield up to 1 additional percentage point in annual income growth, a significant boost for any country.
Bloom's work studying vaccines as an investment in human capital, comparable to investments in education, has resonated around the world. Bloom recently delivered this message to the President of Taiwan, who subsequently announced a quadrupling of the country's vaccination budget as a way to reduce infant and child mortality, boost life expectancy, and ultimately strengthen Taiwan's economy and competitiveness.
Bloom says he is encouraged by growing public awareness of the great gaps and disparties in global health. He believes it is important for his colleagues in research to step outside their comfort zone and talk to their neighbors and their communities about the effects of the global burden of disease on the global economy and economic security and what we can do about it. "Disease anywhere is disease everywhere - the more we can do to prevent disease, the better off we all are."