According to a study released by the World Economic Forum, the global cost of five non-communicable diseases will reach over $47 trillion over the next twenty years – the diseases include CVD (cardiovascular disease), diabetes, mental illness, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer. The authors of the report wrote that 70% of lost output from non-communicable diseases are due to mental illness and cardiovascular diseases.

Cardiovascular diseases are those that affect the heart or blood vessels and include congenital heart disease, disorders of the peripheral vascular system, diseases of the aorta, endocarditis, orthostatic hypotension, hypertension, heart failure, arrhythmia, heart valve disease, coronary artery disease, and arteriosclerosis.

The report, titled “The Global Economic Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases” analyzes what the overall costs to the global economy non-communicable diseases (NCDs) might be. The researchers estimated that the cumulative loss of output due to these diseases over the next two decades will represent about 4% of the annual global gross domestic product (GDP).

Mental ill-health accounts for over $16 trillion of the total – about one third of the $47 trillion anticipated expenditure on NCDs.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said:

“Think of what could be achieved if these resources were productively invested in an area like education. The need for immediate action is critical to the future of the global economy.”

NCDs account for over 60% of deaths from diseases worldwide, approximately 36 million annually. A disproportionate number – 80% (2010) – occurring in low- and middle-income nations. As many of those who die are of working age, the economic impact is enormous. As the populations of developing nations grow, they are affected by an ever-increasing share of this financial burden.

By 2050, the number of people over the age of 60 years worldwide will probably double, the authors explain. Combine this with greater urbanization and you have a steep rise in NCD rates. The authors conclude that the cumulative CVD costs in developing nations are expected to exceed $7 trillion between 2011 and 2025, or almost $500 billion annually.

Olivier Raynaud, Senior Director of Health at the World Economic Forum, said:

“Until now, we’ve been unable to put a figure on what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls the ‘world’s biggest killers.’ This study shows that families, countries and economies are losing people in their most productive years. The numbers indicate that non-communicable diseases have the potential to not only bankrupt health systems but to also put a brake on the global economy. Tackling this issue calls for joint action by all actors of the public and private sectors.”

CVD and mental health concerns account for nearly 70% of lost global output. The worldwide direct and indirect cost of CVD last year was about $863 billion – this is expected to rise 22% to $1,044 by 2030.

On its web site, the World Economic Forum wrote:

“Overall, the cost for CVD alone could be as high as US$ 20 trillion over the 20 year period. For mental health conditions, the 2010 global costs were approximately US$ 2.5 trillion, with the cost projected to surge to US$ 6 trillion by 2030.”

There will be a steady rise in NCD losses until 2030, and then it will increase sharply. The value of life lost, including out-of-pocket expenditure related to these illnesses, and loss of income will double over the next twenty years.

Study author David Bloom, member of the World Economic Forum Global Health Advisory Board and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said:

“The challenge of non-communicable diseases goes beyond health ministries. Policy-makers must understand that these diseases pose a significant threat to personal as well as to economic well-being and progress. Non-communicable diseases undermine productivity and result in the loss of capital and labour. These costs are unbearable and clearly call for innovative solutions and an all-of-society approach, with strong partnerships between government, the private sector and civil society.”

NCDs are caused “to a substantial degree” by:

  • Tobacco usage
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Poor eating habits
  • Physical inactivity

A companion study released by the World Health Organization (WHO) looks at strategies for addressing these risk factors.

An NCD or Non-Communicable Disease is a non-infectious disease or medical condition. They tend to be chronic (long-lasting) diseases with slow progression.

Examples of NCDs include:

Communicable diseases can be transmitted from human-to-human. Some communicable diseases are also chronic, such as HIV/AIDS.

Written by Christian Nordqvist