Global analysis has revealed that $140 billion will need to be invested to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally, funding that could potentially save 39 million lives.
The research outlined that achieving the UN goals on non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and chronic respiratory diseases will require an average investment of £18bn annually to prevent and treat. The funding would be utilised to target policies around smoking, alcohol abuse, and unhealthy diets.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) illustrates that non-communicable diseases kill around 41 million people each year, with 77% of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.
Sustainable Development Goals
The research, published in The Lancet, suggests that many countries have not made adequate progress toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.4, which aims to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by a third between 2015 and 2030.
However, it states that this SDG can still be achieved through a combination of interventions that will reap huge economic benefits in the long term. The research highlights 21 interventions that could enable 123 low and middle-income countries to achieve this SDG, although significant investment from the global community will be essential.
Cherian Varghese, an author of the paper from the WHO’s department of non-communicable diseases, commented: “Countries with policy, legislative, and regulatory measures, including fiscal measures, for the prevention and control of NCDs, as well as strong and inclusive health systems have had the best outcomes against them.
“In those countries, people living with and affected by non-communicable diseases are more likely to have access to effective services, including protection against risk factors, screening for hypertension and diabetes, treatment of NCDs and consistent, quality follow-up and care.”
The WHO estimates that 85% of the 15 million premature deaths from non-communicable diseases occur in people aged between 30 and 69 who live in low and middle-income countries. These diseases are mainly affected by physical activity levels, unhealthy diets, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption.
Reducing the global burden of non-communicable disease
The research suggests that to achieve this SDG worldwide, £140bn in funding is needed between 2023 and 2030 – an average of $18bn per year. This investment would save around 39 million lives and generate economic rewards of $2.7 trillion .
Katie Dain, one of the paper’s authors and chief executive officer of the NCD Alliance, said: “All countries can achieve or nearly achieve the SDG target by 2030 by introducing a cost-effective package of NCD prevention and treatment interventions. The bottom line is that governments can reap substantial economic rewards, in both the short and long run, by taking bold action on NCDs and thus ensuring the fiscal sustainability of their health systems.”
Mayowa Owolabi, dean of the faculty of clinical sciences at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, said: “These costs would comprise a considerable share of a country’s health budget. Mobilisation of additional resources would be required in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.”
Owolabi believes that the challenges in meeting SDG 3.4 are due to lack of awareness, low detection, and diagnosis rates, poor treatment rates, and insufficient control of diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, or hypertension.
He said: “A population-based multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral approach including policymakers, patients, and indeed the entire populace across the life course is required. This will include lifestyle interventions, creating an enabling environment that supports physical activities, and a healthy food value chain towards prevention of multiple non-communicable diseases.”
The research suggests that policies to reduce behavioural risks, such as tobacco smoking, harmful alcohol use, and excess sodium intake, are essential for every country and can mitigate the costs of clinical services.
However, Suvadip Chakrabarti, a consultant surgical oncologist at the Apollo Cancer Centre in Kolkata, India, believes that government initiatives alone are not enough to combat non-communicable diseases, especially in parts of the world with limited resources.
He concluded: “In India, tobacco-related cancers account for every third patient in hospital outpatient departments. The government can levy taxes, increase screening programmes, and increase the number of cancer centres, but it is also important that the population at large becomes aware and abstains from tobacco use.”