Education and health go hand in hand

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

MDG Summit: Remarks at Roundtable 2: Meeting the goals for health and education
New York, United States of America

20 September 2010

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Education and health go hand in hand. The evidence demonstrating the links is overwhelming.

We know, too, that the education of girls brings an especially high payback for health. In this sense, education and health are a sisterhood.

As just one example, educated girls have fewer babies, and they have them later in life. Educated girls also make better mothers. A literate girl or woman is also far more likely to be health literate.

Education lifts the status of women. It protects their sexual health, and protects against domestic violence. We also know that women who have a share of the household income tend to invest in the welfare of their families: uniforms and books for school, better food, latrines, and bednets for malaria.

In short, education is a powerful way to break the cycle of poverty, ill health, misery, and low status passed on from one generation of women to the next.

On the reverse side, health problems can severely undermine investments in education. Some diseases keep children out of school for extended periods. In other cases, children may need to stop their education early in order to take care of an ill parent or siblings.

Moreover, some very widespread tropical parasitic diseases reduce nutrient absorption, impair the development of mental functions, and compromise educational outcomes.

Education and health are a mutually-reinforcing sisterhood. They go hand-in-hand in the drive to lift people out of poverty and give them an opportunity to develop their full human potential.