The future of health needs continued injections of wealth

16 Nov 2020

Image: © Vadim/

The economic shock of Covid-19 is a symptom of years of underfunding and negligence of the health sector’s need for support, writes Elaine Burke.

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“Your health is more important than your wealth” is one of my mam’s mantras. It’s not groundbreaking, but somehow we always need reminding.

And my mam is always sure to remind us if we ever do forget. Don’t scrimp on the doctor visits if you’re feeling unwell. Take the time off work if you need it. Go to the pharmacy and get the medicine, as well as a tonic for afterwards (she’s mad for a tonic and will badger you if you don’t do it). “What do you have money for if not to look after yourself?” And she’s right, of course, as mammies always are.

Setting aside the far-reaching problems of a system where access to healthcare is an awful lot easier with money in the bank, the advice from many a mammy is as pertinent to society at large as it is to the individual. What do you have a wealthy economy for if not to look after your citizens?

It has taken a global pandemic for most governing bodies to realise this. (Much like when those sniffles your mammy told you to rest up and get sorted turn into a full-blown chest infection that ends up costing you more in doctor visits and antibiotics than if you had just heeded her sage advice.)

Furthermore, what’s the point in having all the incredible science and technology we have to hand if we’re just using it to scroll through endless videos on TikTok? The health sector, a creaking monolith, has often been resistant to technological upgrades. Not out of stubbornness or a lack of desire for improvement, but because of a lack of political will and dire underinvestment.

‘The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the need for well-defined and adequately financed health instruments’

Even amid the heights of the global pandemic, EU member states decided to issue the EU4Health Programme with just €1.7bn of its proposed €9.4bn budget – a decision that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen later promised to remedy.

After 10 weeks of intense negotiations, the European Parliament’s budget negotiators agreed with the council presidency that the union’s next financial framework would allow a tripling of the budget for the EU4Health programme to €5.1bn. This investment includes support for digitalisation of healthcare through a European e-health record.

After the vote, European Parliament rapporteur Cristian-Silviu Buşoi said: “The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the need for well-defined and adequately financed health instruments. We also need to boost innovation and invest more in health in general. It was crucial to increase funding for the EU4Health Programme from €1.7bn to €5.1bn in order to be able to deal with future pandemics and health threats, and to make our health systems more resilient.”

Now that world leaders have been completely shaken up by a lack of preparedness for a pandemic crisis they had been warned about, they’ve had to reckon with what is well known to the world and its mother: you can’t be fiscally conservative when it comes to healthcare.

The Irish mammy’s wisdom is equivalent to the rule of putting on your own oxygen mask first. It may be counterintuitive because, for some reason, we are often too preoccupied with other things to properly look after ourselves. But the only way to ensure you’re consistently capable of doing those other things demanding your attention is to look after yourself first.

And it’s great to see that the wisdom of Irish mammies scales. Because if you apply that logic to the whole country, well, there’s simply no point in focusing on the economy if by the end you haven’t enough healthy people left to run it.

As the Irish Government tries to make futile bargains with a virus to keep the economy going, the country’s leaders would be better off investing their efforts in supporting the public health that props up that economy. (See also, how this situation mirrors the climate crisis as one long-foretold and ignored, and now in dire need of financial support. After all, planet health is public health, too.)

‘We must have really good headroom in our health systems’

This week on Silicon Republic you’ll learn about amazing advancements in health coming from science and technology, and the people behind them. Amid the widespread economic uncertainty of 2020, investment in healthcare start-ups has surged. In particular, according to recent data from CB Insights, healthcare companies using artificial intelligence raised recording funding in Q3 2020.

Indeed, speaking to Ann O’Dea at Future Human last month, Elaine Coughlan, managing partner and founder of Atlantic Bridge, noted that “the longer-term trends around technology adoption in the healthcare sector are very strong”.

Coughlan added: “We must have really good headroom in our health systems, so we have to build our health systems to have much more capacity.”

Healthcare has always been about saving and improving lives. Covid-19 has merely sounded a global alarm on the dangers of continued underfunding. And so this surge in healthcare investment needs to be sustained, not because it’s the best short-term economic solution, but because it’s the best long-term societal solution.

Invest in health and the world benefits. It’s not groundbreaking, but somehow we always need reminding.

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic