I attended a conference organised by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) titled ‘New Thinking on Health Policy’ on 4th November 2016. My short notes about a point made by Professor Ila Patnaik.
The following chart shows that there is a negative correlation between Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) — a key health indicator — and per capita GDP of the country.
This means that growth in GDP can lead to improved health outcomes. But we need to be cautious: it is important to remember that development is never health risk neutral. “Development has the potential to either increase or reduce health risk,” Ms Patnaik said.
The emerging disease burden in India is related to growth that is not mindful of health risks: heart disease, diabetes, lungs and respiratory track diseases, Dengue, Chikungunya.
This means that there is a possibility that the unintended consequences of development policy may deteriorate the health of the society, let alone improving it. Development, planning and regulation should, therefore, be mindful of health risks. These risks emerge from polluted air and water, unsafe buildings, unplanned cities, bad drainage, poor sewage, badly planned and dysfunctional garbage disposal systems and other development related activities.
Let’s look at an analogy. Buildings are required/ecnouraged to be earthquake resistant. At the inception stage itself, as the plan for the construction of a building or any other infrastructure project is being laid down, the consequence of a possible disaster (earthquake) is taken into consideration and ways to reduce the risk (earthquake resistant buildings) is part of the strategy. The same should be done for health-related risks.
Mainstreaming health risk reduction into the government and regulatory process essentially will mean looking critically at each programme, activity and project that is envisaged. This should be done not only from the perspective of reducing the existing health risks, but also from the perspective of minimizing its potential contribution to creation of new risks for health.