The health of its citizens has a direct impact on the productivity and economic development of a country, panelists agreed on Thursday at the Sheraton María Isabel Hotel in Mexico City during the fourth edition of the Mexico Health Summit. “Health is a very important element for increasing the productivity of a country. Poor medical care directly affects productivity,” said Sandra Sanchez-Oldenhage, Owner and CEO of Pharmadvice and Country Manager of Biogen. She was also the moderator of the panel entitled “Health as a Catalyst for Mexico’s Long-Term Economic Competitiveness.
The continuous economic growth experienced by Mexico since the beginning of the 21st century has improved the quality of life of Mexicans, although, according to Marco Antonio Navarrete, Deputy Director of Health Services of PEMEX, that success has been accompanied by negative developments such as the aging of the population and the increase in chronic non-communicable diseases. “When life expectancy increases, so does the pressure on pensions. We need to keep citizens healthy for as long as possible, because a sick and retired population can bankrupt any country, in addition to generating greater poverty and lower productivity,” said Navarrete, who highlighted France as an example. “France was forced to extend the retirement age. In Mexico, we are in a worse scenario because we have a very high life expectancy but less productivity and more chances that a citizen will fall ill.”
One solution proposed by the PEMEX executive to try to correct this trend is education, with the objective that citizens have greater control over their health. Navarrete said that although the issue must first be addressed through education it should then move on to labor environments. “A work physician is as important as a top-notch surgeon. Health is not only the responsibility of hospitals but of any social or occupational area.”
Joel Cano, Director of Incubation and Innovation at Grupo Altavista, proposed risk investment as a potential solution. “There are hardly any risk investments in this field,” he said. “We must create new companies that help to solve the impact that the aging of the population has on productivity. Trying to solve new problems with old solutions is difficult, that is why I believe that both the private and the public sectors should bet on innovation.” Héctor Valle, Founder and Partner of INNOVASALUD, pointed out that the application of a “predictive, preventive, professionalized and participatory system” is the key to attacking a problem that Mexico is already facing.
One institution working hard to decipher the impact that health has on the macroeconomic variables of a country is the WHO/PAHO. Juan Manuel Sotelo, Country Representative of PAHO/WHO, suggested the creation of “a macroeconomics commission to collect data that would offer evidence on the impact of health on the economy, since a healthy person will contribute to the development and productivity of a country.” He acknowledged, however, that “Mexico’s health budget is not very flexible.” Sánchez-Oldenhage agreed, saying, “health has not been a priority in the country’s federal agenda.”
Navarrete added that the keeping people healthy should be the incoming government’s priority. “The next government’s focus should be on paying for services and products that help people stay healthy. It should not spend on treating diseases,” he said. “In so doing, we could better direct services, especially in very isolated places in Mexico.”