Health as an enabler for development progress

A child with a serious eye infection is attended by a medical assistant in a mobile clinic at the outskirts of El Sereif, North Darfur. Photo by: Albert González Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

Neglected tropical diseases, noncommunicable diseases, ageing, and diet are just some of the factors that threaten individual health each day. Access to services that will combat those is critical, which is why good health and well-being was marked out as a standalone Sustainable Development Goal. But beyond the direct outcomes of increased life expectancy, a reduction in child and maternal mortality rates, and access to modern contraception, good health is also a key enabler of progress in other areas.

To learn more about how achieving good health can impact education, gender equality, work, and peace and justice, Devex, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, asked more than 1,200 diverse development professionals and interviewed several distinguished scientists and experts on why and how good health and well-being enables their work. Here are the five things we learned.

 “Countries that do not understand the linkages across the SDGs will not achieve the goals. Governments must look at all these interconnections and devise cross-sector strategies. For instance, health simply cannot be delinked from water, poverty, or hunger.”

— Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies

1. The SDGs are interrelated and achieving SDG 3 will mean progress overall.        

SDG 3 seeks to ensure health and well-being for all, and 98 percent of survey respondents believe that by working toward this goal other aspects of development — such as education, work, gender equality, and peace and justice — will indeed be positively impacted. A significant portion of respondents in each sector even cited health as a “critical enabler” of development progress.  

Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies, asserted that: “Countries that do not understand the linkages across the SDGs will not achieve the goals. Governments must look at all these interconnections and devise cross-sector strategies. For instance, health simply cannot be delinked from water, poverty, or hunger.”

2. Access to health is critical for quality education.

So how exactly can health make a difference in other areas? In the report, experts say that a basic level of physical health is needed to develop mental aptitude, which in turn helps children to capitalize on their education. Some 82 percent of survey respondents agreed that good health and well-being could lead to increased educational opportunities.

Forging a Shared Future Through Health and Well-Being

Better health is fundamental to human happiness and the prosperity of any society. Healthy populations live longer, are more productive, and even help reduce poverty. This special Devex report, produced in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, examines the links between health and well-being and other key development areas such as quality education, equality, and security. Download your copy below.

Download the Forging a Shared Future Through Health and Well-Being report here.

“Health and education are linked in both directions,” said Smith. “Pervasive health problems and malnutrition in early childhood means that a child is not able to take full advantage of education opportunities.”

Should a child experience a health issue, poor access to adequate services could mean their recovery is impeded and they are unable to attend school. By ensuring access to adequate services — such as hospitals, diagnostics, and access to medicines — as well as by providing proper nutrition and clean water and air, children have a higher chance of being able to receive a comprehensive education and fulfil their potential.

3. Good health and well-being support labor participation and workforce development.

This education is vital in improving the chances of obtaining decent work, but in the same way that poor health can prevent a child from attending school, it can also prevent an adult from working and contributing to economic growth.

Speaking to Devex, economic development professionals explained that healthy populations are prerequisites for development and drivers of decent work opportunities, which in turn contribute to higher productivity and income generation at both micro and macro levels. Some 87 percent of survey respondents agreed that for societies, communities, and families to experience a more prosperous future, they must have access to basic health care.

“A healthy body and mind is a basic and critical component for having a decent job. There are many things that can stand between a human being and a good job, and health is one of the most critical issues we must tackle,” said Dr. Eun Mee Kim, director of the Institute for International Development and Human Security.

In fact, many of the survey respondents believe that from previous direct investments in health, developing countries have contributed to worldwide economic growth.

4. Health programs can address gender barriers.

For survey respondents, it was also clear that beyond education and decent work, improved health could correlate with improved gender equality. Gender professionals cited repressed reproductive health rights, lack of mental health support and services, and gender-based violence as key issues that exacerbate health inequity, but 97 percent of survey respondents believe that providing access to reproductive health services is an important step toward gender equality.

“Young women after childbirth don’t get the proper health treatment [and] in the worst case they either pass away or they have lifelong terrible health consequences, which really disables them,” said Wolfgang Lutz, founding director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital. “They cannot participate in an active life, they cannot earn their own income, and they cannot continue their education.”

By prioritizing and properly funding female health issues, women can be encouraged to gain control over their household and economic decision-making.

“If you don’t take gender into account when designing health solutions, if you try to be gender neutral, you often miss the boat,” said Kim.

5. Health is a factor in both human and collective security.

Finally, the report highlighted health as an enabler in improving peace and justice within societies. Some 90 percent of survey respondents said they believe strong health systems and infrastructure can contribute to human and collective security, as well as social cohesion and stability.

They highlighted how disease outbreaks can disrupt normal social activity and destabilize governments, but also how poor health systems can cause or exacerbate local disputes, distrust in government, and public disorder. Additionally, respondents noted that fragile and conflict-affected states are particularly vulnerable to individual and collective health insecurity, which can have extreme consequences.

“People in good health and well-being do not need to resort to alternative means — often coercive or violent means — to achieve their desired health and well-being status. Furthermore, less discrepancy in health status reduces resentment and contest across various groups,” stated one online respondent.

The findings from the report indicate that many development professionals, as well as those from other sectors, are aware of the relationships and connections between health and other development areas and believe that by achieving good health and well-being, positive outcomes across multiple sectors can be generated. Good health is therefore an enabler of development progress and can help establish the foundation and conditions for individuals, families, and communities to prosper.

To read the full report and find out just how far-reaching health-related work can be, click here.

About the author

  • Rebecca root%2520%25281%2529

    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is an editorial associate and reporter at Devex. She has a background in journalism and communications, and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York and London. She is now based in Barcelona and produces multimedia editorial content for digital content series and media partnerships.