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October 9, 2018

Eliminating Poverty in the 21st Century: The Role of Health and Human Capital

Author Affiliations
  • 1The World Bank, Washington, DC
JAMA. 2018;320(14):1427-1428. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.13709

Over the past 25 years, extreme poverty—defined as living on less than $1.90 per day—has declined at a remarkable pace around the world. In 1990, 36% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; by 2015, that proportion had decreased to 10%.1

Health and poverty are inextricably linked, with poverty affecting health and health affecting economic well-being. Better health contributes to higher productivity at all life stages. Healthier children attend school more regularly and for more years and learn more. Evidence from Kenya demonstrates that deworming treatments in childhood reduce school absences while raising wages in adulthood by as much as 20%, attributable to a pill that costs 25 cents to produce and deliver.2 For students with anemia, an iron supplementation program in Peru led to a 0.4-SD increase in standardized test scores.3 Healthier adults are more productive as well. In Nigeria, a program that provided malaria testing and treatment increased earnings by 10% just 3 weeks after being offered the opportunity to test.4 Poor health not only reduces the ability to earn income, but can also substantially increase household spending. Out-of-pocket spending on health care drives an estimated 100 million individuals into poverty every year.5