The recently-published Global Investment Framework report titled, Advancing social and economic development by investing in women's and children's health, suggested that increasing health expenditure by just $5 per person, per year up to 2035 in 74 high-burden countries could yield up to nine times that value in economic and social bene?ts.
These returns include greater Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth through improved productivity, and prevention of the needless deaths of 147 million children, 32 million stillbirths, and five million women by 2035. Implicit in this is an increased chance of women and children surviving, thus increased life expectancy.
But the question is: what is the quality of the population being saved?
Taking Uganda as an example; demographic surveys have indicated that 58 per cent of Uganda's population is below 15 years and all these are dependants. In addition, 39 per cent are between 15 - 35 years of age; and out of these, only one per cent is formally employed. The rest are either unemployed or employed in the informal sector which is fond of offering uncertain incomes.
This translates into a bigger proportion of the population being unproductive.
So, does investment in women's and children's issues alone as a global investment strategy, result into increased growth of a country's GDP?
Or there are other driving factors which need to be considered as well?
To answer these questions we may refer to a terminology called systems thinking. It is an approach to problem-solving where "problems" are viewed as symptoms of an underlying system.
If the underlying cause of a system problem is not addressed, problems can repeat and grow and cause an unexpected outcome. In this regard, the underlying cause of maternal, infant and child mortality in low-and middle-income countries is poverty and ignorance. These are the symptoms of the system which need to be addressed first.
Therefore, before planners or policy makers begin to embark on how to save the lives of women and children, a holistic approach should be considered to cater for the progressive life of that saved population. Saving lives is good, but has the future production capability of that populations been considered?
For a population to be productive, it must be in position to provide directly to the economy and the community; and the economic systems in place need to be effective and efficient. However, the current economic situations are alarming, world-wide.
Majority of the youths are unemployed, denying them the opportunity to contribute to the economy; and with the improvements in technology, many potential youths have been left jobless.
This, in turn will result or has already resulted into what Thomas Robert Malthus postulated in 1766 that sooner or later, the world's population growth would be checked by famine and disease.
This is because, unemployed people are food-insecure (i.e. they don't have financial access to food); and lack the ability to command basic human needs such as health care. And with the current commercialised health care, a few will be able to survive emerging and re-emerging diseases hence the Malthusian catastrophe.
Therefore, before we embark on saving lives, let us also embark on planning for the future socio-economic status of that population. This will pave way to putting a value on the life saved.
The author is executive director, Innovative Health Solutions (IHS).