Opportunities to combat Non-Communicable Diseases
February 4th is the World Cancer Day. This disease comes under the umbrella of ‘Non-communicable diseases’, which is one of the risks addressed in the Global Opportunity Reports. Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases pose a significant threat to lives, livelihoods and economic development globally.
NCDs affect an increasing number of people globally, causing a range of detrimental effects including loss of life expectancy or quality, lower (to no) income, missed opportunities for education and weakened family ties. The impact NCDs have on health systems and services also threatens to compound the rising healthcare costs.
NCDs are often chronic in the sense that they are long-term conditions that, although they may be controlled, are often incurable. Previously seen as “affluence diseases”, statistics now show that about three quarters of all NCD deaths occur in low-or lower-middle-income countries, where NCDs are rising fast. More than 60% of world’s total new annual cases of cancer occur in Africa, Asia and South America (WHO).
Opportunities to combat the rise of NCDs, shown in the figure below, emerge when combining innovative regulation and finance with new or existing technologies. They can generate long-term benefits for those suffering from or at risk of developing a NCD, but also for policy makers and investors.
Combat NCDs with mobile technologies
Mobile technologies, digital communications, and social media are powerful tools that can be used to prevent NCDs by creating networks for health access and giving patients and doctors new tools for prevention and treatment. Prominently, mobile health (mHealth) initiatives that use mobile phones to gather and deliver health information have significant potential in this field.
The potential scale of this opportunity is vast, as globally there are almost as many mobile phone subscriptions as there are people. This almost universal access contributes to some of the greatest benefits of mHealth solutions: they are cost-effective and have a wide geographical and social range.
Innovative finance for a healthy generation
Later in life, financial inclusion, through health insurance schemes for example, is vital to support persons who eventually develop NCDs. This support could shield households from the excessive health care costs that push millions into poverty every year. Increasing access to large scale selection of chiep generic drugs suitable for NCD treatment could be yet another approach to alleviating financial burdens and keeping people healthy and productive throughout life.
Everyday health enablers
Much of the global NCDs burdens could be alleviated if healthy options were the natural ones with regard to the many daily choices people face. Making it easy for pepole to enjoy healthy diets and engage in sufficient daily physical activity are important aspects of this approach.
According to the WHO, 2.7 million lives could be saved annually by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. One way of realizing this potential gain is by targeting existing price barriers of these foods. Food taxes, subsidies, price promotions, vouchers, and rewards are among the effective interventions and incentives that can be used to address price barriers. Tax revenues can be channeled towards health promotion efforts to multiply the positive impact.
The figure below shows some solutions globally targeting this opportunity.