Why health is our best investment

Far from being a burden on the public purse, spending on public health is the best investment we can make, Victoria University economist Professor Peter Sheehan told an audience in Washington today.

Delivering the fourth lecture in the Australian Ambassador's Speaker Series in the US capital, Professor Sheehan said that two key changes in thinking were necessary to address the burden of disease confronting 85 per cent of the world's population.

"The first is to go beyond the mindset of the Industrial Revolution, which sees development as industrialisation and growth - as above all the production of goods - to a richer concept of sustainable development to the 21st century.

"The second is to go beyond seeing spending on health as consumption to be minimised and to realise that it can be an investment, with much higher returns than most of the projects to which we give investment priority at the present time."

He went on to say that if the high incidence of disease in the developing world is reduced, it has two effects: greater workforce participation and increased productivity while at work. Further, improved health in old age leads to increased participation in the workforce by older workers.

He produced modelling to show that the combined effects of these improvements can substantially increase economic output.

Professor Sheehan is one of eight academics selected to deliver the lecture series by Australia's ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley.

"My Speaker Series is designed to continue the frank, full and fearless discussion I and my embassy colleagues enjoy with representatives from the US Administration, Congress, universities, think tanks, industry organisations and the general public," Mr Beazley said.

Download Professor Sheehan's full address and accompanying slides.

See all news