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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/18/20

An Opportunity for Health-Oriented Development

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Health is now at the top of the national agenda of all nations, because of force of circumstances post-Covid-19. Governments are forced to first ensure the health of people (to prevent spread of virus) before allowing all other activities. Resumption of economic activity (in other words, human activity) is now required to be 'health-oriented', at least in the short run.

We already see tangible benefits of slowdown in economic activity in the form of reduced congestion, reduced pollution of air and water and relief from a hectic pace of life. While people are enjoying this respite, governments are keen to put the various activities back on track. The great opportunity provided to humanity to sit back and ponder and to learn from the benefits of slowing down, needs to be utilized. Instead, a thoughtless attempt to reboot economic activity to its previous state will only invite those conditions again that pushed the world to the brink.

Resumption of activity after several weeks of lockdown has been proceeding in a stepwise manner, though out of compulsion, providing understanding of what is essential and what is relatively non-essential for the society as a whole. The supply of food, water and basic health services form the core needs of any society. Gainful employment, transport and education form the next important needs. Entertainment and sport give fullness to life.

Health & Happiness
Health & Happiness
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Such an order of things from the most essential to the least, is 'health-oriented', not just in the present circumstances but in all circumstances. These needs, when addressed in the right order, give balance to economic activity and are in tune with human nature. When the emphasis of economic activity is on ever-increasing material growth, the basic needs like good food, clean air and water are sidelined and imbalance sets in. Human health and the environment become casualties.

This simple principle of 'health-oriented economic activity', if applied during the process of rebooting of the economy, can to a large extent put the world on the path of health and happiness. For example, while allowing resumption of the food industry, those producing the healthiest food can be given priority. This implies agriculture and related industries are allowed to resume, ahead of foods which are not so healthy like meat and meat products. Giving equal importance to both under the category of food industry lacks orientation to the basic concept of good health.

Similarly, an industry that is less polluting to the environment needs to be prioritized over one that pollutes. An occupation that is conducive to human happiness needs to be preferred over one that increases the stress levels of the people. All activities that are deleterious to the simple principles of health, need to be reconsidered and recast in a suitable manner.

There is now an opportunity to shift development, centered on material growth (GDP), to development that is centered on health and happiness. The concept of GNH (gross national happiness), which is successfully practiced in the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, shows the ideal way to move forwards for national economies trying to recover from the ravages of Covid-19.

The first step would be to give priority to tackling the humanitarian crisis due to displacement and loss of jobs rather than providing stimulus to the economy by infusion of funds to the ailing industries. The returns from investment in human capital may be delayed unlike investment for revival of industries. But such an approach is the essence of GNH, which will energize people to overcome the bad times and contribute their best to revive the economy.

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Vijayaraghavan Padmanabhan is former Professor of Medicine, Madras Medical College. Based in Chennai, India. His interests include Spirituality, Politics, Economics and Medicine.

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