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Just as good health—mental and physical—is fundamental to individual well-being, public health is fundamental to stable, cohesive societies. That is the lesson we must take from the COVID-19 pandemic

The inextricable link between human and economic health is another lesson. The pandemic plunged the world into the deepest economic contraction in generations, slowing progress on education, poverty eradication, and inclusive development. Overcoming the pandemic is a prerequisite to restoring jobs, livelihoods, and economic growth, say the IMF’s Gita Gopinath and Ruchir Agarwal. This makes it critical for global economic and financial stability, and therefore of fundamental importance to the IMF.

That is why we focus this issue of F&D on global health and well-being. Our authors explore future global health threats and countries’ vulnerabilities to them. They examine gaps in health care capacities within nations and the global health security system. And they consider the role of prudent public policy and responsible politics in health care.

World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Singapore’s senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Harvard’s Larry Summers call for rethinking international collaboration, with additional investments of at least $15 billion a year to avert future pandemics. Rather than viewing support for global health security as “aid for other nations,” they suggest treating it as a strategic investment that benefits every nation—rich or poor.  

For World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus public financing is the core of universal health coverage. He argues that health and finance authorities must now work together to bolster health systems and economies in a mutually reinforcing way.  Nobel Laureate Michael Kremer and coauthors offer ideas to speed vaccinations in the next pandemic, including investments in manufacturing capacity and supply chains and research that have widespread benefits for society.

In a special feature, Miles Kimball and colleagues discuss a better way to measure prosperity beyond the traditional metric of GDP. We also report on three country case studies that show that effectively delivering services at the community level (Costa Rica), cultivating social trust (Denmark), and accounting for well-being at the highest policy level (New Zealand) all play an important role in maintaining the health and happiness of citizens.

The depth of the pandemic’s shock—and the lessons from it—will perhaps spur individual countries and the international community to treat health as a public policy priority that will make for happier and more productive societies. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Health is the real wealth…”


GITA BHATT,  F&D editor-in-chief.

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.