On average, higher per capita GDP is correlated with improved health outcomes. In parallel, improved population health also seems to foster higher GDP. Yet health and growth need not increase proportionately with one another, nor is this relationship universal. Patnaik highlights potential externalities resulting from growth that could negate efforts to improve population health: development itself can both increase and decrease certain health risks depending on how the process is planned, implemented and regulated.
Over the last 35 years, India’s GDP grew annually at 6.3% (doubling every 11 years or so) but population-based health indicators did not improve proportionally. Instead, new health risks emerged while old ones remained unresolved. Decades of rapid urbanization led to unsafe buildings, unplanned cities, bad drainage and sewage, dysfunctional garbage disposal systems, polluted air and water, among other issues. For example, with the construction of roads catering to high-speed traffic, accompanied by inadequate design of road safety systems, road accident fatalities have surged since 1999.
Today, India’s disease burden is evolving into two streams. The first is the persistent poverty-related health agenda (e.g. malnutrition or high infant and maternal mortality). The second relates to growth that does not consider new health risks emerging from it (e.g. air pollution resulting from rapid urbanization or infrastructure built on areas prone to natural disasters). In both areas, the key policy response involves population-based government financed interventions that generate large societal health benefits, i.e., Common Goods for Health (CGH). Moving forward, CGH is therefore at the center of Indian health policy. In this commentary, we draw on India’s experience to decompose the overall CGH agenda and identify common obstacles that countries may face in financing such goods.
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