A new World Health Organization (WHO) report shows that close to seven million deaths could be prevented by 2030, if low and lower-middle income countries were to make an additional investment of less than a dollar per person per year in the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
According to the WHO, NCDs – which include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory disease – currently cause seven out of every ten deaths around the world. Yet, their impact on lower income countries is often underestimated. The WHO underscored that NCDs are a huge health and socioeconomic burden because 85% of premature deaths (between ages 30-69) from NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Luckily, the WHO stated that the vast majority of those deaths can be prevented using WHO’s tried and tested NCD ‘Best Buy’ interventions. These include cost effective measures to reduce tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, improve diets, increase physical activity, reduce risks from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and prevent cervical cancer.
On the benefits of keeping people healthy, the WHO highlighted that it reduces health costs, increases productivity and leads to longer and healthier lives.
A focus on 76 low- and lower-middle-income countries
The new report, ‘Saving lives, spending less: the case for investing in non-communicable diseases’, focuses on 76 low- and lower-middle-income countries. The report explains the NCD ‘Best Buys’ and shows how every dollar invested in scaling up ‘Best Buy’ actions in these countries could generate a return of up to USD 7 – potentially USD 230 billion by 2030.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that with the right strategic investments, countries that bear a significant amount of the NCD burden can change their disease trajectory and deliver significant health and economic gains for their citizens.
“In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing we can be certain of is that without action, NCDs will continue to be a significant threat to global health. Investing in these evidence-based policies is an investment in a healthy future”.Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
The report emphasizes the urgency of investing in NCD prevention and management given that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many of these diseases can worsen outcomes for COVID-19. According to the WHO, by investing in the 16 recommended ‘Best Buy’ policies, countries will not only protect people from NCDs, but also reduce the impact of infectious diseases like COVID-19 in the future.
“Non-communicable diseases take a terrible health and economic toll, especially on countries that can least afford it. We know the prevention measures that work best, and hopefully this new report leads more governments to take the smart, cost-effective actions that can help save millions of lives around the world” – WHO Global Ambassador for NCDs and Injuries Michael R. Bloomberg.
‘Best Buy’ actions
‘Best Buy’ actions include increasing health taxes, restrictions on marketing and sales of harmful products, information and education, and vaccination. They also include actions connected to managing metabolic risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, in order to prevent more severe disease or complications.
The interventions are all relatively inexpensive and require little capital investment, but could help avoid much of the high cost of treatment in future. The report also indicates that while each of the interventions can be implemented individually, the effects are stronger and produce a greater return on investment when introduced together. With marginalized groups often at greater risk from the physical and financial impact of NCDs, the interventions may also help to reduce health and economic inequalities.
The interventions have already been used successfully in many countries around the world, with some of the success stories highlighted in the report.