“Gesundheit!” – “(good) health!”: this German loanword has become synonymous with the wish of physical and mental well-being for others in social life. No surprise there: for many, good health is the ultimate wish and the most precious good. In France, every glass of wine is accompanied by “santé!”. In Austria, it is “Zum Wohl!”. Historically, this wish used to be desperately needed, given that many of the medical breakthroughs have only been with us since the previous century, sometimes much shorter.
The relationship to health has changed to such a degree that the formerly omnipresent “Bless you!” in response to someone sneezing is now considered rude, considering that it might be seen as pointing to a significant health issue on the sneezer’s part. And of course, recent months have put a whole different spin on this situation altogether. Either way, the interpretation of health as something on would wish on someone else may be out of place.
The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said about this that health was no wish, but that instead it had to be a human right.
As a core element of a fair society, health(care) is therefore one of the three pillars of the ERSTE FAIR INVEST fund.
Health – an unequally distributed good
In a developed country like Austria, with a fully developed, public healthcare system health insurance, we may forget that health(care) is an unequally distributed good. Even in the USA, one of the most developed countries in terms of medicine, comparatively simple diseases or injuries may mean the financial ruin for a person. 27.5mn US citizens, or just below 10% of the population, did not have health insurance in 2018. In Austria, a significant number of people are in a similar situation. From a global perspective, the picture is even worse. Emerging economies in particular often lack the most basic medical care. Even in some CEE states, a healthcare system as we know it is only just emerging.
Therefore, in order to ensure healthy people, it takes more than the latest cutting-edge technology in medical therapies. What it takes, is access to these therapies.
This is a fact that we also take into consideration when selecting the companies that go into ERSTE FAIR INVEST. It is why the fund, at its outset, invested for example in Gilead Sciences, a US pharmaceutical company that engages in pioneering research in areas such as oncology as well as diseases like hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, which affect emerging countries disproportionately. The unique aspect is the fact that Gilead cooperates with local partners in these countries that provide the various drugs at extremely discounted rates or even for free. This way, an estimated 12mn people are currently receiving HIV therapies from Gilead; and in 2013, up to 100mn people received a revolutionary drug against an incurable form of hepatitis C. Thus, the company creates the chance of a cure for countless people and creates an enormously positive impact on society. While Gilead has repeatedly been subjected to criticism for marketing its drugs in developed markets for steep prices, to us this seems secondary in nature compared to the aforementioned added value. At the same time, other pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis were suing against the production of generic copies of its drugs in India for the use in developing countries.
This describes the area of conflict that every investment/investor has to navigate in social impact: generating the maximum amount of solutions for many, especially poor people while turning a profit. What some may see as contradiction is none – from our point of view. We believe that in the medium to long term, positive impact and economic success will support each other.
More than just a cure
Above, we have interpreted health largely as being cured from disease. This is too reductive. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not just as the absence of disease or ailment. The mentioning of well-being illustrates the many socio-political questions that are entangled with the issue of health(care), such as poverty. It also shows that health on a personal level is much more than just the cure from disease.
Therefore, ERSTE FAIR INVEST, too, interprets the issue more widely than health and well-being. We also invest in themes such as healthy diet and sports. These are areas where a certain degree of consumption can have a positive impact on the well-being of people. In addition, they both help directly in the prevention of diseases. This is both an enormously positive contribution to society and an approach for the individual that is preferable to having to cure a disease. More and more people recognise this opportunity, which creates an enormous growth potential for these two themes.
This question has been asked time and again since the launch of the fund. The answer is: mental health. International studies show that pets contribute significantly to the mental well-being of their owners. The corona crisis in particular, with its recurrent pattern of lockdowns, has boosted the number of pets. Pets are therefore not only – excuse the term – nice to look at, but they also contribute to physical, mental, and social well-being, i.e. to health as defined by the WHO.
Health is more than just a pillar
The question of mental health in particular shows how the theme is integrated with other pillars of the ERSTE FAIR INVEST fund. The maintenance of mental health of a company’s employees is becoming more and more important in the corporate sector, as has the avoidance of workplace accidents done for years – with very immediate financial implications. Education also demonstrably contributes in a positive way to human well-being. The creation of ways to earn a living at least provides a relative form of financial well-being via financial inclusion.
Health(care) is thus (one of) the theme(s) that <falsches “dass”> strongly unites the sustainable goals of ERSTE FAIR INVEST and offers chances from a human and investment perspective.
Read the full ESGenius newsletter on social responsibility and sustainable investing: https://blog.en.erste-am.com/dossier/social-responsibility/
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