Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a growing threat to economies and workforces worldwide. The private sector is increasingly aware of the threat these illnesses pose to business health. More important, companies have begun to understand that they have the resources and intervention capabilities to make a major impact on the rise of NCDs such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Current trends can be reversed through implementing a range of workplace prevention, education and treatment programs and policies.
Diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and chronic respiratory disease are slow-progressing, chronic diseases that collectively account for 60 percent of deaths globally. Globally, the NCD burden is projected to increase by 17 percent in the next 10 years—slightly more than the 14 percent increase in global population over the same period; by 2030, NCDs will be the leading global cause of disability.
NCDs are predominantly a consequence of unhealthy diets, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and physical inactivity.
Although cancer is grouped with the non-communicable diseases, anywhere from seven to 20 percent of total cancer incidence can be traced to infectious agents. Examples of the infection/cancer connection include liver cancer, roughly three-fourths of which is caused by hepatitis B/C infection, and cervical cancer, caused by human papilloma virus infection in 90 to 100 percent of cases. After tobacco use, infections may be the single greatest preventable cause of cancer.
Diabetes and cardiovascular disease, though generally preventable through lifestyle changes, have enormous cost implications. The high costs of care are a major economic drain to individuals and their families, and a burden to society at large. Globally in 2010, the direct costs (diagnosis, treatment and care) and indirect costs (loss of productivity and income) were $863 million for cardiovascular disease alone. This is projected to increase by 22 percent to $1.05 billion by the year 2030. At the 2011 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, the World Economic Forum projected that NCDs could result in a cumulative output loss of US$ 30 trillion over the next two decades.
NCDs cut into companies’ productivity by causing absenteeism and premature deaths, as well as rising healthcare costs. NCDs and their associated risk factors also threaten to undermine the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For example, both diabetes and smoking increase the risk of developing tuberculosis; without interventions to curb both, progress on MDG 6 (Combat HIV, TB and Malaria) is affected.
In the past, low-income countries were relatively unburdened by NCDs because people tended to die younger. Today, as low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) achieve progress in fighting causes of early death and increasingly replicate the lifestyles and eating habits of richer countries, they are faced with rising NCD prevalence. For example, stroke, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) consistently rank as the top three leading causes of death in middle-income countries like India and China. In sub-Saharan Africa, cardiovascular disease is the second most common cause of adult death. Experts project that the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in Africa—currently the world’s lowest—will double in the next 20 years. In 2007, 49.9 percent of lung cancer cases occurred in LMIC when just 20 years prior, the corresponding figure was 31 percent. The rise in cases is tied to increased tobacco use in LMIC and, in some countries, exposure to smoke from indoor cooking fires.
In poor countries, NCDs are characterized by higher death rates at earlier ages than in high-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, 50 percent of cardiovascular disease deaths occur in adults between 30-69 years of age, which is a full 10 or more years younger than in more developed regions. Overall, 70 percent of NCD deaths occur to people who are at or near retirement age (60 and above). However, most NCD deaths are preceded by long and often costly periods of ill health.
Excess and premature NCD death and disability in LMICs are the result of lower availability of treatment options, particularly high-tech and resource-intensive interventions. Access to NCD preventive interventions, screening and diagnostic technologies and treatment is far from adequate in LMICs, many of which struggle with weak health systems and poor infrastructure. And because infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infection continue to disproportionately impact people in these geographies, LMIC are faced with a dual burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases. The dual burden poses a unique challenge for health and policy officials in the developing world, and is most pronounced in countries with high income inequality, such as South Africa, Brazil and India.
Disease Specific NCD Burden
|Cardio Vascular Disease(CVD)||
Why GBCHealth Focuses on NCDS
Many businesses operate in areas of the world where health systems are poorly resourced and/or ill-equipped to shoulder the growing need for prevention, care and management of NCDs. Further, many LMIC governments have yet to direct concerted prevention efforts to help people reduce their risk factors for these conditions. In this scenario, the workplace emerges as an ideal setting for deploying preventive interventions that target NCD risk factors. For example, businesses can promote healthy lifestyles –physical activity and nutritious eating – through on-site gyms and healthy cafeteria options and educational outreach. Similarly, the workplace is a good environment for screening as well as the long-term management/treatment of chronic conditions. Employers can offer assistance to workers requiring daily medication through on-site medical care and psycho-social support.
Beyond the workplace, business can apply core competencies in marketing and behavior change to spread messages focused on healthy and active lifestyles. The food and beverage industry – often seen as a driver of the NCD epidemic – has a critical role to play in the NCD response, through development of healthier products and adherence to responsible marketing. True progress in addressing NCDs will not occur without a multi-sectoral response that includes business.
GBCHealth’s focus on NCDs includes specific diseases (e.g. diabetes, cancer) and associated risk factors (e.g. tobacco, obesity). Global activities are complemented by regional and country-level initiatives with a particular disease focus. GBCHealth’s NCD program and guidance is consistent with the principles of WHO’s “Best Buys” for NCDs.
GBCHealth members are ramping up employee wellness programs--one of the most effective vehicles to address NCDs—in workplaces around the world. Pharmaceutical and medical device/technology companies are spearheading public-private and private-private partnerships to generate innovations in prevention, diagnosis and management of NCDs. These PPPs are diverse: some aim to strengthen community-based programming to address a specific NCD and others improve overall health systems. The concept of “shared value” – i.e. increasing societal and commercial benefit at the same time – around NCDs is gaining ground, especially in emerging markets where the disease burden is high. Across the board, companies are strategically applying the lessons learned from HIV, TB and malaria to NCDs, thereby increasing efficiency and accelerating impact.
Read more about companies addressing NCDs:
Please note that as per GBCHealth Policy, no companies from the tobacco industry are considered for GBCHealth Membership as there is no safe level of tobacco consumption.