September 25, 2015

Non-Communicable Disease is an Epidemic Holding Back Development

By Andrea Durkin


In 2012, 38 million people died of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These are not diseases of affluence and their prevalence worldwide dwarfs infectious diseases.  Almost three-quarters of deaths due to NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Many health systems in resource-poor countries are oriented toward infectious disease and maternal and child health interventions.  The transition to include prevention and treatment of NCDs is falling behind the rate of prevalence in these countries.

To make matters worse, NCDs in middle- and low-income countries are striking young working age members of the population.  According to the World Health Organization, 16 million NCD deaths in 2012 occurred before the age of 70.  82% of these “premature” deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, leaving households without their primary income earners.

Deaths attributable to NCDs are higher in poorer areas due to lack of appropriate preventive and chronic care.  NCDs require an arsenal of weapons including consistent and ongoing adherence to medicines, use of diagnostics and medical devices, and increased involvement by well-trained medical professionals.  Patient education about risk factors and early symptoms is critical to support early diagnosis and interventions that may reduce the need for more expensive treatments.


Healthcare companies are working to fill gaps in underdeveloped systems.

Public programs are often lacking and underfunded.  Public-private partnerships have burgeoned and play a critical role in filling gaps and extending government programs.

The global pharmaceutical association, IFPMA, tracks partnerships its members engage in searchable by partner, country or disease.  In their database alone, 150 partnerships are dedicated to preventing the spread of communicable and NCDs, and another 185 partnerships are designed to strengthen health system infrastructure.

For example, Bristol-Myers Squibb partners with governments and civil society organizations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to implement Bridging Cancer Care, supporting patients who are mainly poor ethnic minorities living in rural communities with limited access to cancer services.

Pfizer is collaborating with AMPATH (Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare) to create a Center of Excellence in Oncology in Western Kenya focused on developing cost-conscious and sustainable chemotherapy regimens, radiation therapy and training for healthcare providers.

Lilly is supporting the Government of Mexico’s efforts to roll out programs to prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes throughout the primary care clinic network that covers 50 percent of Mexico’s population.

IFPMA itself is partnering to scale SMS and apps-based mobile health services providing training, patient education and behavior change support, as well as data to aid disease management.


A great human and economic toll.

In its report, The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases, the World Economic Forum calculated the value of life lost, including lost income, out-of-pocket spending related to medical care, and pain and suffering due to the five leading NCDs.  Their findings estimate a cumulative output loss of US$ 47 trillion over the next 20 years, equivalent to approximately 4% annually of global GDP in 2010.

The cost is paid in the intrinsic value of life years lost. A girl born in 2012 in a high-income country can expect to live to about 82 years of age – 19 years longer than a girl born in a low-income country expected to live to age 63.  The goal is not merely to live longer, but to live healthier.

A worthwhile investment. 

Health is a fundamental asset. Investing in health and nutrition is good business and good government.  It pays lifelong dividends, supporting childhood educational attainment and adult worker productivity, both powerful drivers of individual income growth and higher GDP.

Collaboration among business, government and other stakeholders to manage NCDs is critical to ensuring that good health fulfills its potential to alleviate poverty, drive economic growth, and support individual and community well being.