The hidden problem that drives 100 million people into poverty

October 30, 2018 by Helen McGuire, MHA and Kate Bunting

Noncommunicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, but they also have catastrophic economic impact. Here are three stories of people whose lives have been affected by these diseases and the opportunity we have to ensure that everyone has access to the care they need.

It’s widely cited that noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and hypertension, are the number one cause of death globally. What’s less discussed, however, are all the ways that NCDs perpetuate debilitating, long-term harm to almost every dimension of human progress. Almost three-quarters of NCD-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where essential treatment is often unavailable and unaffordable to those in need.

This is the story that HelpAge and PATH are working together to tell. NCDs force 100 million people in Africa into poverty every year. It’s in LMICs where the impacts of NCDs are most damaging. And it’s in these regions of the world where policy change and direct investment to address the rise of NCDs are so severely lacking.

Global inaction has serious, wide-ranging repercussions. NCDs are a major barrier to economic growth. The World Economic Forum estimates that NCDs result in $500 billion in economic losses every year. We’re talking about foregone income, budget-breaking health expenses, and impossible trade-offs—such as whether to buy medication or send a child to school. NCDs don’t just hurt those who have them. The burden of NCDs reverberates through families, communities, and economies.

They also affect people at every stage of life. NCDs are not just an issue for older people, even though chronic conditions account for 90 percent of the disease burden among people over 60 years old in LMICs. Diabetes, for example, affects children as well, and its prevalence is rising. In Africa, diabetes cases are projected to more than double from 14 million to 34 million by 2040, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

In our collaborative video project, we bring you the stories of Shamah, Edward, and Rehema: three people whose daily lives are deeply affected by NCDs. Though they are of different ages and backgrounds, the one common thread through their stories is how access challenges to medicines and products affect their ability to live healthy, productive lives. You’ll see firsthand how transportation barriers, high medication costs, and stock-outs, among other issues, undercut the contributions of hard-working, everyday people.

These are not insurmountable barriers, though. Four decades after the 1978 Alma-Ata Health for All declaration, there is a renewed call for primary health care and universal health coverage with the ambition of leaving no one behind. The time is now for governments, institutions, and the private sector to come together on making this goal a reality. We have the solutions to help people prevent and manage NCDs. Now it’s a matter of investing in health systems, infrastructure, and education programs to put them into place.

This project is a collaboration with HelpAge USA.