Social Programs Play a Vital Role in Saving Lives During Crises

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A study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation revealed that social programs like primary healthcare, conditional cash transfers, and social pensions have been responsible for preventing 1.4 million deaths in Brazil over the last 20 years. By extending these programs, an additional 1.3 million deaths and 6.6 million hospitalizations could be avoided by 2030.

The global COVID-19 pandemic worsened poverty and social disparities, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The economic impacts of events like the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and rising inflation are expected to drive more people into poverty in the near future, creating what is known as a “polycrisis,” where different crises interact to amplify their effects.

Deteriorating economic conditions typically lead to increased rates of diseases and deaths, particularly among the most vulnerable populations in LMICs. However, the implementation of social programs can help mitigate the health impacts of economic crises. Brazil has been at the forefront of expanding its welfare system, introducing a public universal healthcare system, conditional cash transfer programs (such as Programa Bolsa Familia) for the poorest families, and social pensions (like Beneficio de Prestacao Continuada) for the elderly and disabled.

Positive Impact on Hospitalizations and Mortality

In their research, ISGlobal researcher Davide Rasella and his team assessed the combined effects of conditional cash transfers, social pensions, and primary healthcare on hospitalizations and deaths over nearly two decades (from 2004 to 2019). This comprehensive evaluation on a national scale in an LMIC demonstrated significant reductions in hospitalization and mortality rates, particularly among children under five and adults over 70, with 1.46 million deaths prevented from 2004 to 2019. Projections suggest that expanding these programs to include the newly vulnerable could save up to an additional 1.3 million lives by 2030.

Co-first author of the study Daniella Cavalcanti emphasized that expanding these programs is a practical approach to mitigating the health impacts of the ongoing global polycrisis, whereas implementing fiscal austerity measures would lead to numerous preventable deaths.

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