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A Prescription for Healthier Economic and Fiscal Policy

Finance ministers can no longer assume that national and global health policy, especially risk and preparedness assessments for different shocks, is the exclusive domain of health-sector professionals. Instead, they need to engage more with health ministries and others to strengthen their countries’ resilience to future crises.

MEXICO CITY – A healthy population is both a cause and a result of economic growth and development. But achieving both today requires policymakers to leave their comfort zones. Specifically, a new generation of global crises – including pandemics, climate change, and increasing hunger – call for a fundamental rethink of finance ministers’ role.

We should know. As former finance ministers, we believe that macroeconomic policies now require far greater engagement with line ministries. In particular, finance ministers need to be better able to assess the potential economic effects of public-health risks, introduce taxes that improve health outcomes, and adopt budgetary and regulatory decisions that look beyond short-term public-finance considerations. Failure to do so will mean being unprepared for the next health and economic crisis.

The devastating economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown why finance ministers must anticipate their responses to global health risks. The pandemic is forecast to kill more than 15 million people and cost the global economy more than $12 trillion in forgone GDP by 2024. Lockdowns that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago have resulted in more than 1.5 billion students being affected by school and university closures, implying severe long-term consequences for a generation of children and young adults, especially those with no access to effective home schooling.