New report pegs economic toll of noncommunicable diseases at $47 trillion over next two decades

September 19, 2011

The world stands to lose a staggering $47 trillion over the next two decades because of the economic impacts of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), according to a new joint report by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the World Economic Forum.

This is the first report to identify the total global costs of NCDs. Read the report.

Sixty-three percent of deaths worldwide are attributable to NCDs, making them the world’s main killer. In addition, these diseases—chiefly cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes, and mental ill-health—take a severe economic toll on the world. They place tremendous demands on social health and welfare systems, cause decreased productivity in the workplace, and lead to prolonged disability and diminished resources within families.

While high-income countries currently bear the biggest economic burden of NCDs, the developing world will shoulder an ever-increasing share as their economies and populations grow, say the authors.

They also say that cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions represent the largest economic burden of NCDs, accounting for almost 70% of lost output.

“The challenge of noncommunicable diseases goes beyond health ministries,” said HSPH’s David Bloom, the report’s lead author. “Policy makers must understand that these diseases pose a significant threat to personal as well as to economic well-being and progress,” said Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography at HSPH and a member of the World Economic Forum Global Health Advisory Board.

In a preface to the report, HSPH Dean Julio Frenk and Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, called on governments, civil society, and the private sector to vigorously combat these diseases and their rising economic burden.

On the positive side, the study authors note that business leaders are well aware of the huge economic toll of NCDs. And, the authors add, there are numerous options available to prevent and control these diseases.

–Karen Feldscher

Learn more

Noncoummunicable diseases pose rapidly growing threat to socioeconomic development in world’s poorest countries (UN Roundtable, NCD meeting)

Dean Frenk Urges Action on Noncommunicable Diseases in Poor Countries (HSPH News)

Killer Diseases Spur UN Action Call to Avert $47 Trillion Cost (Bloomberg)