Public health is linked to the economic strength of a country as health expenditure is positively associated with the productivity and GDP of a nation. The advances and improvement of many of the main forces driving economic growth over time span such as technological progress, education, and physical capital accumulation contribute to the improvement of health services in countries. However, with the world divided between first, second and third world countries, public health situation differs between economically strong and weak countries.
COVID-19, as a recent event, shed light on the differences in health systems within the Arab world, especially that the region includes some of the richest oil producing countries as well as poor and war-torn countries.
The below graph visually views the differences between the GDP of the Arab League Countries in the Year 2019. For example, at the top of the GDP scale , we have Qatar, a relatively geographically small GCC country and biggest producer of natural gas, has a GDP of $175 billion which is more than GDP of Libya, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen combined.
The size of a country’s GDP determines the monetary value of its health expenditure as a percentage of GDP. Comparing the GDP tree map with Health Expenditure graph below , we can see that countries with high GDP (e.g, Qatar, UAE) shows small percentage of health expenditure while Countries with low GDP (e.g, Lebanon, Jordan) shows larger percentage of health expenditure.
In monetary terms, Lebanon has a highest total health expenditure % in the Arab World which amounts to 8.64%($51.6 B)= $4.45 billion. On the other hand, Qatar has a low health expenditure % of 2.9 but when multiplied by the country’s GDP, it amounts to 2.9%($175 B)= $5 billion.
Health Expenditure per capita shows the direct impact of GDP of a country on its health spending. As shown in the below graph, countries with high GDP have high health expenditure compared countries with low GDPs.
The above discussion pointed out the relationship between the strength of a country’s economy and its health spending. The question that remains is “How does this reflect on the health of people?”
Countries that allocate large budgets for the development of the health sector and public health perform well in the face of diseases, especially communicable diseases and pandemics such as COVID-19. The below bubble chart shows that countries with low GDP have the highest percentage of deaths by communicable diseases.
Life Expectancy and Death Rate
To further show the evidence of the impact of GDP and public health spending, we consider both indicators: Life Expectancy at Birth and Death Rate in the Arab League Countries.
- Life Expectancy at Birth: we can that people from countries with high GDPs and high health expenditure per capita. Qatar leads the way with 80 years expected age in 2020 while Yemen has an expected age of 66 years in the same year.
- Death Rate: the same pattern seen with Life Expectancy is also seen in death rates per 1000 persons. Qatar has a death rate of 1.2 compared to Yemen which has a death rate of 5.9, both in 2020.
What should be done?
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” points out the need for improving the public health of the world population. Health spending by governments is a very important factor in the health of their people. However, for those countries who are economically disadvantaged, improving health can be also achieved through:
- Investing in education, especially in medicine studies to make sure the health sector has the competent doctors and specialists.
- Directing international aid more towards developing health sectors in poor countries rather than urgent assistance.
- Investing in awareness: one of the most important ways to improve health in developing countries is by educating citizens to take preventive healthcare measures and avoid riskier health behaviors.