Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes or cancer carry a high risk of disability and premature death
India’s population has a median age of about 30[i], yet almost 10 percent of the population has type 2 diabetes. This is a higher rate than Germany, although India’s average age is about 15 years younger. As India’s population ages, a catastrophe may develop.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes or cancer carry a high risk of disability and premature death. This is a growing concern particularly in lower- and middle-income countries, threatening economic growth and development. Today 32 million deaths occur due to NCDs in these countries – more than three-quarters of the world’s total.
Ironically, the big rise in the risk factors for chronic disease are due to the very forces of progress that are improving economic prospects for so many. For example, people live in close proximity to booming cities, can afford to eat more food – much of it unhealthy yet cheap – and do less manual labor.
If the global economy is to sustain its current productivity, workers need to stay at peak productivity for longer. A 2017 study estimated that NCDs might cause a cumulative global loss of output of USD 47 trillion between 2011 and 2030[ii]. Failure to fund chronic disease prevention and care will see more lost opportunities every year. I hope the G20 recognizes the critical importance of fighting this global pandemic in their countries, and beyond.
As this year’s Summit reminds us, fair and sustainable development depends on good healthcare, and this will only happen if we build consensus across stakeholders. An achievable goal, even in our polarized world.
The fact that NCDs often require lifelong treatment calls for healthcare systems that can diagnose, manage and control these diseases. The risk of a pandemic – and the sustainable development agenda – lends urgency to global efforts to achieve universal health coverage (UHC). However, as the WHO High Level Commission said earlier this year, the fight against NCDs must be a whole-of-society undertaking.
Everyone has a part to play. Factors that contribute heavily to NCD risks, like physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, alcohol and tobacco use, and air pollution, are beyond health systems alone to manage. This is why we urgently need multi-sectoral action. Each sector must be willing to leave its own comfort zone, step into unchartered territory and be proactive, going beyond how we usually define our roles and responsibilities.
As far as the pharmaceutical industry is concerned, we must recognize our role in providing for the health needs of people (not just treatments). We should contribute meaningfully to the discussion surrounding global health. I am particularly passionate about the importance of primary healthcare and about supporting access to chronic disease medicines that the WHO considers essential. I also believe that innovations in technology ranging from mobile health and telemedicine to artificial intelligence as well as personalization and on-demand healthcare will shape health systems in the future. Against this background, how can G20 countries leverage these advancements to make health systems more equitable, efficient and effective?
Healthcare systems in G20 countries are at very different maturity levels but everywhere, healthcare provision is compounded by the social inequities affecting these countries. Regardless, the challenge of chronic diseases will require new approaches, new partnerships between the public and private sectors and new ways of financing these activities that reflect their importance to national prosperity.
Given rising costs, a central question is thus who is going to finance healthcare? Clearly, we need innovative approaches to financing. In order for countries to progress toward UHC, there is increasing interest to identify ways to supplement traditional sources of financing, and adopt new methods of financing global health programs, research, and development. As such, governments and global health actors are looking to blended financing partnerships to unlock investment in global health. Government and non-governmental organizations, corporations, private investors and philanthropic institutes could collaboratively mobilize greater amounts of capital than any one of them in isolation.
Despite the challenge, there is hope. According to the World Health Organization, four-fifths of premature deaths from NCDs are preventable. People who manage their chronic conditions with prevention, proper diagnosis, care and treatment, or lifestyle or dietary changes, are often able to continue to work, save and invest in the future.
Health is a crucial building block for development. We must work together on new solutions and we must start now.