Health & Medical

The Economics of NCDs

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) pose a substantial burden to individuals and societies worldwide, impacting people’s abilities to work, consume and save, increasing financial ruin risk and costing health systems and economies significantly – potentially impeding progress towards global development goals and hindering economic development. With projected costs rising dramatically over two decades due to NCDs alone, immediate action must be taken now in low and middle income countries where disease burden is greatest to protect populations against this growing health crisis.

NCDs wreak economic havoc due to their expensive treatment costs, making care of even one NCD often unaffordable for families without health insurance or other forms of social protection. Household expenses associated with one or more NCDs can quickly drain savings and incomes, pushing families below poverty lines and deepening inequality; for instance in India alone diabetes treatment costs can consume 15-25% of an individual’s earnings each year and tend to strike during prime working years, compounding this financial risk and hindering productivity.

High NCD care expenses not only reduce productivity but can impede national and economic growth by driving up health spending, draining scarce public resources, and hampering private sector investment. LMICs face particular difficulty when it comes to providing adequate health systems and financial risk protection for their vulnerable populations. Recent estimates estimate that four of the most prevalent NCDs (cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer and mental health issues) will incur total economic losses of US$ 47 Trillion by 2030 – 75% of current global GDP – which will impede progress toward meeting global development goals, slow economic growth and put millions at risk of catastrophic expenditure impoverishment.

Cost-effective solutions exist for combatting NCDs globally. The World Health Organization Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020 recommends 88 interventions, with 16 “best buys” that are cost-effective and feasible to implement; investing just one dollar will yield at least seven returns by 2030.

Our new series, Economics of NCDs, highlights research and analysis necessary for action to prevent and control NCDs. This collection includes papers on economic impacts of NCDs on households, health systems and economies; evaluation of NCD prevention and control policies; as well as studies pertaining to tobacco taxation or market-based approaches that aim at decreasing demand and prices of unhealthy products such as sugar-sweetened beverages or alcohol.

This collection was prepared as part of the fourth annual Global Health Economics Colloquium, an academic forum featuring health experts, policymakers, and students from UCSF, Stanford, and Berkeley who meet annually to dive deep into a particular global health issue – in 2015’s case NCD economics. For their contributions we thank two reviewers.

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