Health


Lifestyle diseases ring alarm bells



Dubai: Rapid economic advances made by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has led to large sections of the population adopting a sedentary lifestyle. The result is a rising incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular illnesses, cancer and respiratory diseases.

The NCDs have become a leading cause of death in the GCC. Their prevalence, which has now assumed epidemic levels, is undermining the societal gains of the economic development.

At the currently prevalent rates, the total direct and indirect cost of the most common NCDs for the GCC will be close to $36 billion in 2013, one and half times of the official healthcare spending. Given the magnitude of the problem, the GCC governments must act rapidly.

According to Booz & Company, they must develop national and GCC-wide NCD agendas that will enact short-term and long-term programmes before the epidemic imposes a heavy toll on their societies.

The truth is that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have been linked to developed economy lifestyles, namely unhealthy eating habits, high-sugar and fat-heavy diets, besides a lack of physical exercise. Increasing wealth has, of course, also had some positive public health effects. However, in the GCC, as elsewhere, these gains to public health and individual well-being are now being offset by the increasing prevalence of NCDs and associated mortality rate. "The result is that NCDs have become the leading causes of death and disability, thus making the GCC one of the region's most affected by the global increase in chronic diseases," said Gabriel Chahine, a partner with Booz & Company.

"This trend is projected to result in NCDs causing over three-quarters of all deaths globally by 2030, up from 63 per cent in 2008, with significant cost implications for healthcare systems."

In effect, the economic burden of NCDs comes in two forms of cost — direct and indirect. "Direct costs are typically those associated with the treatment of patients," added Jad Bitar, a partner with Booz & Company.

"More significant is the indirect economic penalty that NCDs impose. From a national perspective, the NCDs reduce life expectancy, which means less output."

By developing an econometric model using the Cost of Illness model and the latest available and reliable statistics, Booz & Company was able to generate estimates for the direct and indirect costs of NCDs in 2013, and forecast for the expected burden in 2022.

"We calculated that the total direct and indirect cost for the five selected NCDs in 2013 will rise to around $68 billion by 2022," stated Chahine.

To tackle the crippling financial and human cost of the NCDs, the GCC governments and other stakeholders need to understand the underlying risk factors associated with these illnesses.

"There are two kinds of primary NCD risk factors that are root causes of these illnesses: non-modifiable and modifiable," said Pierre Assouad, senior associate with Booz & Company.

"In terms of policy response, modifiable risk factors are the most amenable to change and have the highest impact on individuals. Non-modifiable risk factors lie outside the control of the individual and are linked to age, hereditary/genetic conditions and other socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental determinants." With risk factors growing and healthcare budgets already under strain, the GCC governments need to sound the alarm within their societies and embark upon national programmes to stem the NCD epidemic.

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