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Investing N550 per person per year could save 7 million lives, N126.5 billion in Nigeria, other poor countries by 2030

By Chukwuma Muanya
23 December 2021   |   2:42 am
A World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said close to seven million deaths could be prevented and $230 million (N126.5 billion) saved by 2030 if low and lower-middle-income countries

A baby receives a dose of the RTS,S vaccine for malaria in Cape Coast, Ghana in 2019. Credit: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP/Getty/Nature<br />

WHO says 85% of premature deaths in people aged 30-69 from non-communicable diseases occur in these countries

A World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said close to seven million deaths could be prevented and $230 million (N126.5 billion) saved by 2030, if low and lower-middle-income countries, including Nigeria, were to make an additional investment of less than a dollar (N550) per person per year in the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The WHO, in a new report published Monday, said NCDs – which include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory disease – currently cause seven out of every ten deaths around the world.

It said the impact of NCDs on lower-income countries is often underestimated, despite the fact that 85 per cent of premature deaths (between ages 30-69) from NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries, making them huge health and socioeconomic burden.

According to the report, the vast majority of those deaths can be prevented using WHO’s tried and tested NCD ‘Best Buy’ interventions. These include cost-effective measures to reduce tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, improve diets, increase physical activity, reduce risks from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and prevent cervical cancer.

It said keeping people healthy reduces health costs, increases productivity and leads to longer and healthier lives.

Saving lives, spending less: the case for investing in non-communicable diseases focuses on 76 low- and lower-middle-income countries. The report explains the NCD Best Buys and shows how every dollar invested in scaling up Best Buy actions in these countries could generate a return of up to $7 – potentially $230 billion by 2030.

WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “With the right strategic investments, countries that bear a significant amount of the NCD burden can change their disease trajectory and deliver significant health and economic gains for their citizens.

“In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing we can be certain of is that without action, NCDs will continue to be a significant threat to global health. Investing in these evidence-based policies is an investment in a healthy future.”

The report emphasised the urgency of investing in NCD prevention and management given that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many of these diseases can worsen outcomes for COVID-19.

According to the WHO, by investing in the 16 recommended Best Buy policies, countries will not only protect people from NCDs but also reduce the impact of infectious diseases like COVID-19 in the future.

WHO Global Ambassador for NCDs and Injuries, Michael R. Bloomberg, said: “Non-communicable diseases take terrible health and economic toll, especially on countries that can least afford it. We know the prevention measures that work best, and hopefully, this new report leads more governments to take the smart, cost-effective actions that can help save millions of lives around the world.”

According to the WHO report, Best Buy actions include increasing health taxes, restrictions on marketing and sales of harmful products, information and education, and vaccination. They also include actions connected to managing metabolic risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, in order to prevent more severe diseases or complications.

The interventions are all relatively inexpensive and require little capital investment, but could help avoid much of the high cost of treatment in future. The report also indicates that while each of the interventions can be implemented individually, the effects are stronger and produce a greater return on investment when introduced together. With marginalised groups often at greater risk from the physical and financial impact of NCDs, the interventions may also help to reduce health and economic inequalities.

The interventions have already been used successfully in many countries around the world, with some of the success stories highlighted in the report.

International donors have also begun to use the arguments to catalyse investment in this area: in 2019 the Norwegian Government launched the first-ever international development strategy on NCDs.

Director for NCDs at WHO, Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, said: “Saving lives, spending less: the case for investing in non-communicable diseases sets out a path on which countries can follow to deliver the next generation a better and healthier world. The impact of COVID-19 on people living with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and lung diseases shows that it’s more important than ever to prioritize the investment of prevention and management of NCDs.

“We call on all our partners to follow examples like Norway, who have stepped up funding and action. In a world where financial resources are increasingly constrained, this report shows where the best investments can be made and where millions of lives can be saved.”