Increasing social and economic benefits globally


September 21, 2020


Executive Summary

In most countries of the world, the greatest contributors to ill health are chronic or non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Addressing the causes of NCDs will not only save lives and improve the health of society, but it will contribute to a greater level of economic activity as more people can be active in the workforce resulting from a reduction in absenteeism and presenteeism.

Despite very different circumstances, many countries face three common challenges:

  • Their populations are ageing in different ways and to different degrees.
  • There is an existing high prevalence of NCDs, particularly for older age groups.
  • Many risk factors for the future incidence of NCDs are high and in some cases continuing to rise.

Taken together, these factors impose heavy costs on businesses, governments, and individuals and threaten much greater costs in the future. People may be sick and absent from work (absenteeism), present at work but not working at full capacity due to illness (presenteeism), or retired prematurely due to ill-health (early retirement due to ill-health).

The report by Victoria University, Melbourne, estimates the economic and social returns to investing in specific disease categories to improve health outcomes in 27 countries around the world ranging from high-income countries, such as the United States, to developing countries, such as Kenya. These diseases, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental illness, greatly affect the working age populations.

Using the World Health Organization’s OneHealth Tool, the study conducts an economic analysis to estimate the return-on-investment from scaling up strategic clinical interventions and implementing policy measures that target NCD risk factors.

The findings project that countries would on average realize a return of $20 in productivity gains and workers lives saved for every $1 invested in cardiovascular disease and diabetes interventions.

Likewise, countries could see a return of $22 for every $1 invested in anxiety disorders and depression interventions.

The generally very high benefit-cost ratios for the 27 countries show the value of investing in the treatment programs for these diseases among the working age population, arising from the enhanced productivity of those receiving the treatment. The returns are particularly high among the developing countries further emphasizing the importance and opportunities of addressing NCDs in these countries.

* Note: Unresolved data integrity issues with depression and anxiety for Australia and Pakistan precluded these countries from further analysis.

The report findings demonstrate a powerful economic and social argument for investing more in NCD prevention and treatment programs so that people can work more productively, thereby reducing social and economic exclusion, and improving the health resilience of the populations.

As countries consider the next steps of chronic disease management and preventive health services, they will need to examine interventions that will maximize the social and economic returns on investment. Recommendations discussed include:

  1. Supporting employer-led health and wellness initiatives
  2. Adopting innovative health technology to accelerate the prevention and control of NCDs
  3. Leveraging the private sector to inform NCD policies