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Analysis Health, Wealth, and Profits

Investing in the health of girls and women: a best buy for sustainable development

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1175 (Published 02 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1175

Health, wealth, and profits

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  1. Michelle Remme, research lead,1,
  2. Anna Vassall, professor2,
  3. Gabriela Fernando, PhD fellow1,
  4. David E Bloom, professor3
  1. 1United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  2. 2London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, USA
  4. Correspondence to: M Remme michelle.remme@unu.edu

Human rights, theory, evidence, and common sense all suggest that greater investment in women’s health could be among the “best buys” for broader economic development and societal wellbeing, say Michelle Remme and colleagues

Investments in health are known to generate large social and economic benefits, in addition to saving lives and improving quality of life.1 Yet given the 2030 global development agenda and its broad set of priorities, resources need to be targeted to interventions with the greatest impacts. The disproportionate impact on economic development of investments in women’s education and economic participation is well known, but it is less well understood that programmes that improve women’s health could have substantial and disproportionately higher economic and social returns, compared with other uses of social resources.23

Meeting women’s health needs and eliminating gender inequality are moral imperatives and fundamental human rights, and investment in women’s health should therefore not require justification. However, the case is also compelling beyond the immediate health benefits.45 Although women live longer than men, they have specific unmet health needs and higher morbidity.6 In addition, women’s biological and social roles make them central to intergenerational transfers and demographic and development effects. Moreover, women not only provide most of the informal care in homes and communities, they also represent 70% of the global health workforce, making them central to overall population health.7 By considering only the direct health benefits of investments in women’s health, we risk undervaluing the broader societal benefits and underinvesting in programmes to improve it.

We summarise the latest evidence on the impact of investing in women’s and girls’ health for the health, wealth, cohesiveness, and wellbeing of society in low, middle, and high income countries. We include evidence on sources of benefit embedded in a sustainable development …

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