Does Health = Wealth?

This was the overarching question recently put to an advisory board serving the World Economic Forum – the Swiss-based organization behind the high-octane annual conference in Davos, with an ambition of nothing less than improving the state of the world.   I’ve had the privilege of representing Ketchum on this board for a few years now, and it now includes experts from the worlds of business (e.g., Accenture, Dell, and Beckton –Dickinson), academia (Harvard School of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), and international organizations interested in global health (Gates Foundation, World Bank, and World Health Organization) among others.

It is generally accepted that wealthier economies produce healthier populations, but is the opposite true? Does a healthier population drive a more competitive, productive economy? The consensus opinion at this meeting was an emphatic yes, and the implications are significant for leaders in government, business and civil society. Investment in health at the local, national and international levels may not simply be the right thing to do in these economically austere times; it’s probably the smart thing to do.

Healthier households are more productive and drain fewer resources from already strained (or non-existent) healthcare delivery systems. And at a macro level, healthier populations add a competitive edge to economies battling for global advantage in innovation, quality and sustainable growth.  

The key, according to many members of this advisory board, is to look beyond the traditional portfolio of the “minister of health” — healthcare delivery models and innovation in medical products and services, among other items – and connect the dots in other areas, like nutrition, sanitation, urban planning and education. This requires political commitment and collaboration at the highest levels and a series of frameworks and coalitions of the public and private sectors, all underpinned with common metrics for anticipating risk, shaping priorities and benchmarking performance.

What’s the role of the World Economic Forum in all of this? Their mission is to generate ideas and foster collaboration in areas that have the potential to make the world a better place, and global companies like Ketchum have signed up to help harness resources – knowledge, creativity, business networks, etc. – to make that happen.   Right now in health, the Forum is piloting a series of programs or frameworks that someday might be scalable or informative to much wider ambitions in areas including innovative service delivery systems, health data, workplace wellness and creating incentives / motivation for individuals and communities to live healthier lives.

Here’s where you come in. If you’re read this far, I assume it’s because you’ve got an interest in health. Perhaps your organization is a client of Ketchum or Omnicom, or you’re part of a team that deals with issues of health, economic development or technological development? Or maybe you’re just curious. In any case I’d love to hear from you.  Please feel free to get in touch directly or to post below any relevant articles, data, case studies, comments or suggestions.