Health & Fitness

Tax collectors, doctors key to our economic productivity

healthcare conference
Delegates at a healthcare conference in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Last weekend’s Sunday church sermon was drawn from the book of Matthew 9:9-13. The passage, narrates Jesus’ calling of Mathew into discipleship mentions tax collectors and doctors in the same breath, hardly a common occurrence even in today’s dynamic and multi-existential livelihoods.

Yet the two are possible allies in the quest towards humanity’s ultimate desire of longer, healthier and happier lives. Though viewed differently at societal level, their relationship is almost symbiotic. In the wake of the trending allegations of improper conduct by some private hospital administrators’ promotion of unprofessional and possibly unethical medical practice, the verse highlights the need for hospitals to always remain sober and safeguard doctors’ reputation lest we also become ostracised.

The sermon followed through with Jesus gracing a dinner party hosted by Mathew and attended by his fellow tax collectors, and other “sinners” too. The preacher’s take on the inclusion of the phrase “other sinners” fixates the pre-existing view of tax collectors at that time and their treatment as pariahs in society, possibly highlighted by the gospel narrator’s singling of “sinners” as attenders of the party too.

The pharisees, in seeing Jesus “at home” in the party, question his disciples on why their master was eating with sinners. Jesus responds, “It is not the healthy who need physicians, but the sick”.

The preacher’s recollection of Mathew’s calling, himself a tax collector, highlights society’s unchanging views to this profession even after all those years. In exploring the complex interplay between medicine and tax collection, the preacher highlighted potential synergistic roles at play. The tax collector in most developed countries feeds doctors and the health system, by extracting resources from others and allowing the State to invest these taxes into public health initiatives that benefit all; sinners and tax collectors included.


In return, doctors and the health system workers deliver healthier populations, enabling workers to pursue productive economic affairs and more taxation. A failure of either profession usually manifests in underperformance or non-delivery of responsibilities of the other. When both fail, then society should be worried, because the sick and those who need physicians cannot be helped.

Economists champion this intricate interplay of the two entities, investment in good health systems is a prerequisite factor of productivity and healthcare can also be considered as an asset. This holds not just at the national, but also at the organisational level.

Employers should consider investing in their staff health schemes since healthy individuals have potential to participate more productively in economic pursuits, other factors being constant.

There is need for health system planners and tax collectors to collaborate more to improve society’s health well-being. Health workers must also demand a say in how taxes are allocated and spent once collected.