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Analysts often refer to the health of an economy. Partly, this is a metaphor. For example, productive periods with full employment could be described as hearty and healthy. By contrast, times of mass unemployment and inefficiency might be deemed anemic. The truth is that the actual physical health of a population is closely related to the economic health of its community.

Stopping to think for a moment makes this very clear. If people are ill, they may not be able to work. In the past, industries in the US have had to change course due to practices that made workers ill and ultimately harmed productivity. The so-called Radium Girls developed cancers related to painting watches with radio-luminescent paint. Asbestosis hit other industries, including shipbuilding and automobile repair. They had to course-correct to maintain a healthy workforce.

In the developing world, things are different. There isn’t much heavy industry of that kind. But looking at the health of the population can still be an important economic indicator. East African countries like Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda struggle with healthcare. For years, mortality among babies and small children was high. Although that’s improving, the people who were raised during those years are still affected.

If children are malnourished, for example, it affects their growth and development. As adults, they may be less robust than people who grew up with plenty of food, good health care and immunizations against major diseases. Groups like the World Health Organization (WHO) have been setting goals for places like East Africa for decades. They know all too well that in order to innovate and compete in the global marketplace, people first need to have their basic needs met.

The United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals of 2000-2015 sought to end hunger and poverty, improve equality among genders and foster development. It was clear to the signatories that all of these things are linked together. By acknowledging the real, measurable relationship between health and wealth, the leaders in politics, healthcare, and business can all work together to help developing regions finally arrive.

Remember, everyone has big potential. There are dreams being dreamt in East Africa that could change the world. But they may never come to fruition unless the people dreaming them have can sustain themselves comfortably.