It’s all about the ABC’s

My father-in-law once asked me what I thought the one intervention was that could really help the poor in developing countries. I told him education, without thinking twice. For someone like me studying and researching health policy, this might be a surprising answer. Even though my interests are health insurance, iron pills, mosquito nets, and anything else that can help improve the health of the poor, I still think education is the key to it all.

In the the literature, the link between health and income goes in both directions. By being healthy, a woman can go to the field, plant her rice and earn income for her family. This increases her income. Conversely, by having more income, a woman can go to the doctor when she needs to and get the care to become healthier.  Finally, there are other factors, like behavior, that affect both health and income. A woman who is not in an abusive relationship will be both healthier and able to pursue economic opportunities with the support of her partner.

There is evidence that all these different pathways matter. If so, then it’s really not clear what interventions we should focus on to promote health.

Yet, one thing is clear in the literature: education helps. Indirectly, education increases wages and therefore allows people to afford care. In a more direct way, education helps individuals make decisions that improve their health; more educated people are aware of the dangers of smoking and smoke less.  As a result, education has a two-fold effect on health, both directly and indirectly.

So, if there is any policy that we should be focusing on first, it should be the policy to get everyone to know their ABC’s.