Impacts of an Unhealthy Population on the Sustainable Development of Belize

Maintaining a healthy population is vital for any country to sustain and increase labour productivity, and avoid channelling resources meant for other development purposes to health provision. Gillis, Perkins, Roemer and Snodgrass (1996) for instance, adopting the World Health Organisation’s definition, note health to be “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (p. 273). The well-being of a population is vital to the success of a nation, and hence the health system plays a critical role in determining the outcomes of a country’s economy. Recognizing such importance of the health system to the economy, Over (1991) notes that the health system interacts with other economic sectors through ways such as productivity, expenditure, and welfare (p. 5). As such, this paper evaluates how an unhealthy population in Belize can affect the sustainable development of the country by impeding productivity, channelling funds meant for development activity to healthcare provision and increasing expenditure on welfare activities.

The first impact of unhealthy population on Belize’s economy is the reduction of productivity. For instance, Over (1991) argues that the health status of a country’s population has a direct effect on the production of goods and services (p. 5). Such effects would for instance result where sick employees seek leave from their employment, or work below their potential, thus resulting in a reduction in the overall productivity. For Belize, such decrease in productivity would worsen the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), which, according to the 2011 GDP estimates by the Statistical Institute of Belize (2012), is yet to recover fully to the 2008 levels before the effects of the global financial crisis set in. Additionally, such a status would cripple the nation’s production sectors, especially the agricultural sector, whose productivity have declined according to the statistics provided by the Statistical Institute of Belize (2012, p. 2).

The second effect of an unhealthy population on Belize’s economy is that it would burden the nation with huge healthcare expenses, thus depriving it the resources needed to support development initiatives in other sectors. Over (1991) notes of such an effect of health arguing that, the effect on productivity would influence the expenses committed to the healthcare sector (p. 5). For Belize, a developing economy, the challenge would be exacerbated by the population’s failure to access quality healthcare and preventative services, thus enhancing the risk of development of more expensive, hard to combat, chronic illnesses (Theodore & Green, 1997). Such illnesses would need the government to commit more resources to address the situation, albeit belatedly, thus increasing the expenses compared to nations where the population can access to preventative healthcare services easily (Martins & Dunlop, 1995). Accordingly, the higher expenditure in setting up systems to address healthcare concerns, belatedly, would consume more of the resources needed to spur the economy to grow at a rate that can support the nation’s population growth. For instance, statistics from the 2010 census indicate that the nation’s rate of unemployment increased by 3 percentage points compared to the rate recorded in 2000 (Statistical Institute of Belize, 2011a, p. 13). Such statistics reveal that the nation’s population was growing at a higher rate than the rate at which the economy created new jobs, thus necessitating strategies to spur economic growth to create new jobs. An unhealthy population would work against such strategies.

A third effect of an unhealthy population would be increased government expenditure on welfare programs, thus further compounding the scarcity of resources needed to spur economic growth. Over (1991) identifies the health of the population to have both direct and indirect (through productivity and expenses) link to the population’s welfare. On the productivity link, an unhealthy population would imply that the country’s population, by the virtue of failing to work, would receive lower income. Such lower incomes would translate to a major population failing to meet their basic needs thus forcing the government to intervene by increasing its expenditure on social welfare programs. This would exacerbate a situation in a country where approximately a third of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line, being unable to meet their “basic food and non-food costs” (Statistics Institute of Belize, 2007, p. 21). A similar outcome would also arise where the unhealthy population directly affects the welfare by rendering the population dependent of care services for survival. Further, the welfare pressure would be aggravated by the fact that a big proportion of the population, as per the population pyramid generated from the 2010 census data, are below 24 years (Statistics Institute of Belize, 2011b, p. 13) thus more likely to be depending on their parents. An unhealthy population would thus increase the number of dependants while decreasing the number of productive people, who care for such dependants.

Analysis presented indicates a severe outcome of unhealthy population on Belize’s economy. Such a population would reduce the nation’s productivity, and increase expenditure on healthcare and welfare. Such a combination would lead to the nation failing to achieve sustainable development.


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