By Maximilian Clarke

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the greatest cause of deaths and disability for humans and have a serious economic impact, says a new Chatham House paper, Silent Killer, Economic Opportunity: Rethinking Non-Communicable Disease.

The cumulative losses in global economic output due to NCDs will total $47 trillion, or 5% of GDP, by 2030. The author, Sudeep Chand, says modest investments to prevent and treat NCDs could bring major economic returns and save tens of millions of lives. NCDs, such as heart disease, cancer, asthma and depression, have their place alongside economic risks such as infectious diseases, illicit trade, migration, terrorism and food security.

"They have global scope, cross-industry relevance and a high economic and social impact. Economic policy-makers and businesses concerned with capital and labour costs have good reasons to consider the burdens from NCDs. Sustainable, balanced economic policy can consider low rates of NCDs as a measure of success. Where the economic benefits outweigh the costs, civil society has a major role to play in harnessing an effective response to NCDs.

“Health spending is not just concerned with consumption,” explains Sudeep Chand. “There are strong economic incentives to invest. For every dollar invested in NCDs, one can expect three dollars in return.

“As populations urbanize and grow, tobacco and alcohol use, poor diet and inactive lives will drive up deaths globally by 17% in the next ten years. A coherent response might prioritize tobacco control and child nutrition, focus innovation on efficient community-based models of care, and ensure access to basic off-patent medicines.

“Although the most effective interventions on tobacco, food and alcohol contain fiscal and regulatory threats for individual industries, these merit consideration given the positive economic effects for businesses in general. Turning the tide is as much about families, schools and communities as the UN General Assembly.

“NCDs, simply because they cause so much collective disability, must take their place on the international stage, as they already do in our lives.”

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