The Relationship Between Wealth and Health

The BBC reports on fascinating new research, which concludes that “economic growth does not necessarily translate into improvements in child mortality.” There are two points I wish to make about this: First, it illustrates an important trend in the development literature regarding the correct metric to use to determine, and compare, levels of well-being worldwide. Historically, well-being has been captured by the crude instrument of Gross National Product (GDP) per capita, but the realization that, for many reasons, the measure was too crude to be a satisfactory indicator of well-being development led to the introduction of other measures, the most useful of which is the Human Development Index (HDI) put out by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). (Why might GDP per capita be a misleading indicator of well-being?)

The second point follows from the first; one’s policy prescriptions vis-a-vis issues of development are to a large extent determined by just which indicator of well-being one believes best captures the essential nature of that elusive concept. As such, IGOs such as the World Bank, have focused attention on overall economic growth, while scholars such as Amartya Sen (who champions the “capabilities approach”) do not view growth tout court as a magical anti-poverty elixir.

From the BBC article:

Ten million children still die every year before their fifth birthday, 99% of them in the developing world, according to Save the Children.

A study comparing economic performance with child mortality reveals that some countries have not translated wealth into improvements across society.

Survival is too often just a “lottery”, said Save the Children’s David Mepham.

He said that even the poorest countries can cut child mortality by following simple policies, but at the moment “a child’s chance of making it to its fifth birthday depends on the country or community it is born into”.

Lagging behind

Angola comes at the bottom of a new “Wealth and Survival” league table drawn up by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The figures for child mortality in India are shocking
Shireen Miller
Save the children India

There are few countries in the world where there are such stark wealth contrasts as there are between the wealth of oil-rich coastal strip around the Angolan capital Luanda, and the war-ravaged interior.

UNDP statisticians calculate that more than half of the babies who die in Angola could be saved were the country to spread its wealth more fairly.

child_mortality_map.jpg

Click on the map to be taken to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Magazine for an article on child mortality.

[Each orange dot is equivalent to 5,000 child deaths.]

 

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