Economic Progress

5 reasons why tackling diabetes will boost economic growth

A patient takes a blood glucose test during an event aimed to help people with diabetes to cope with their illness at Saint Luka diagnostics medical center in Sofia, November 13, 2012.

Image: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Vanessa Candeias
Senior Director, The Hepatitis Fund
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Economic Progress

Diabetes affects over 415 million people in the world. In 2012, diabetes was the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths. Meanwhile, more than 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. According to projections, if governments, private sector and civil society do not take concerted action to curb this epidemic, the numbers of people affected by diabetes will rise to 642 million by 2040.

Image: IDF Diabetes Atlas

Tackling diabetes will foster socio-economic growth. Why?

Healthy populations are cheaper for governments. Healthcare expenditures on diabetes accounted for 11.6% of the total healthcare expenditure in the world in 2010.

In the United States of America, people with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of about $13,700 per year, of which about $7,900 is attributed to diabetes. People with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than those without. Most of the cost for diabetes care in the U.S. (62.4%) is provided by government insurance (including Medicare, Medicaid, and the military). The rest is paid for by private insurance (34.4%) or by the uninsured (3.2%). The cumulative costs of diabetes are even more alarming in emerging economies. Between 2012 and 2030, India is expected to lose $140 billion, Indonesia $200 billion and China $590 billion.

Image: World Economic Forum/Harvard School of Public Health 2014, 2015

Healthy workers are an asset for businesses – and business leaders know it.
The possible negative impact of diabetes on output, revenue, profitability, business performance, and potential for economic growth can be substantial. In the USA, a company of 10,000 employees, of which 820 are estimated to have diabetes, must spend over $1.38 million on diabetes related healthcare costs.

Diabetes, and other preventable non-communicable diseases, can lead to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity while at work, inability to work as a result of disease-related disability, and lost productive capacity due to early mortality and exclusion from the workplace to take care of sick family members.

India has signaled that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a threat to the business community and growth. Business leaders are aware of the impact diabetes and other NCDs have on their bottom line. For example in India, more than 1 in 4 business leaders expect diabetes to seriously impact their business, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (EOS).

Image: World Economic Forum

Diabetes can be prevented. If we do so, individuals and families will likely have additional income available to put towards products and services in the local economy.
Diabetes Type 2 – the one that can be prevented - accounts for around 90% of all diabetes worldwide.

If we can find a way to deal with diabetes, then family income can be spent on other items and services other than healthcare. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use are critical to preventing diabetes. In addition, screening will be critical to diagnose diabetes and consequentially deliver essential treatments to individuals in order to prevent complications such as retinopathy, blindness, kidney problems and amputations. When prevention is effectively implemented, individuals and families are rewarded with better health and increased personal income.

Preventing diabetes prevents the other main killers in the world - cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Primary prevention of NCDs, built upon robust early screening and a strong healthcare infrastructure, offers a promising path for reaping favourable returns on investment.

For example, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board subsidises healthier cooking oil for use in meals outside the home, a move which is expected to reduce the number of cases of coronary heart disease by 2020 and generate a return on investment of 1,100%. Moreover, the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health estimated that between 2000 and 2011, about 24% of the growth in full income in low-income and middle-income countries resulted from the value of additional healthy life years gained. In South Asia, the annual value of the change in mortality was equivalent to 2.9% of the average income during the period 2000 to 2011, which was almost half the size of the value of the increase in GDP.

New business models to support prevention and management of diabetes have emerged - with positive results. Online support communities, digital tools to track individual behaviour, gaming techniques applied to inspire individuals to change their behaviour and business models offering affordable diabetes care have been implemented, delivering improved health and socio economic outcomes.

For example, Clinicas del Azucar, a venture-backed Mexican social enterprise with one-stop-shops provides a patient-centric approach for continuous diabetes care at affordable prices to those that need it the most. All of the latest developments point to the untapped potential of aligning healthy people with healthy businesses.

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