Fixing chronic disease key to post-COVID world health

Victoria University research released today at a United Nations-associated meeting in New York provides a powerful economic argument that investing in chronic diseases that affect working-age populations can bolster the world’s health resiliency and prepare for future pandemics.

Economic analysis of 27 nations around the globe by the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies estimates that countries would realise an average return of US$20 from productivity gains, lower health costs, and workers’ lives saved for every US$1 they invested in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Likewise, they would see an average return of US$22 for every US$1 invested into anxiety and depression.

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Initiative on Health and the Economy is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic given prior research indicating people living with non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory conditions are most susceptible to death or complications from the pandemic.

The findings show significant returns across all countries for heath investments targeting working-age populations, particularly among developing countries. For example, every US$1 spent on interventions for cardiovascular disease and diabetes would yield a US$65 return in Kenya, US$35 in Peru, and US$9 in Australia. Mental health interventions would return US$58 in India, US$45 in Egypt, and US$16 in the USA.

NCDs represent 70% of the disease burden for the world’s population aged 40 to 64, and have an alarming impact on a country’s health costs, productivity, and global development. Preventing and treating NCDs can save lives and improve overall societal health while supporting increased production as countries worldwide seek to jump-start their economies post-pandemic, said author Professor Bruce Rasmussen.

“It’s well known that NCDs are a drag on the economy and workforce productivity. The report shows that the combination of an aging workforce, high and increasing prevalence of NCDs with age, and an increase in NCD risk factors means heavy costs for governments, individuals, businesses, and global economies.”

Co-author Dr Kim Sweeny said the study presented a strong business case about the economic benefits of managing chronic health issues, as well as the importance of building resilient healthcare systems around the world for future health threats.

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