Making healthy lifestyle choices
The sheer scale of the challenge is daunting. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart problems or cancer kill over 40mn people each year. These are not just diseases of the wealthy.
Up to 80 per cent of these deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs); many affect young adults in the prime of their lives. In Oman, NCDs claim 11 lives each day. Yet most of these deaths are avoidable if people stop smoking, eat less, cut down on salt and alcohol and do more physical exercises.
This is the theme of a World Health Organization (WHO) event hosted by the Government of the Sultanate of Oman, that gathers governments and private/public sector experts to accelerate progress on Sustainable Development goals linked to reducing the burden of Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health that is taking place this week in Muscat.
Healthy lifestyle choices can cut the cost of diagnosing and treating NCDs such as diabetes. But the overall costs of these diseases are far greater. Over the next 15 years, the human and economic losses arising from NCDs could be as much as US$7tn in LMICs alone.
Partnerships to tackle malaria, TB and AIDS have received considerable funds over decades, but, while many partnerships exist to help LMICs tackle NCDs the funding will not follow.
Today, chronic diseases receive just 1 per cent of international health assistance. Governments must then find their own solutions to fund NCDs prevention and treatment bearing in mind that paying out-of-pocket for healthcare including for chronic diseases pushes 100mn people into extreme poverty. Delivering universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030 is intricately linked to efforts to tackle NCDs but governments often lack sustainable health financing. That is why new government-private industry initiatives are essential.
As host, Oman’s pledges to provide healthcare to all citizens free of charge will be applauded. But H E Dr Ahmed bin Obaid al Sa’eedi, Minister of Health, recognises that the sultanate needs to engage with the private sector to achieve that. Plans are afoot in the sultanate to increase spending on the health sector from eight to ten per cent of the total state budget by 2050. Partnerships with the private sector are crucial to delivering this.
We at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) and our members who are the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies are ready, willing and able to help and we recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to funding health services that are needed to tackle NCDs. Our industry is indeed no stranger to the ongoing multi-stakeholder dialogue on how we can work together to enhance access to NCD treatment and care.
It has shown its leadership and commitment by establishing and providing continued backing to Access Accelerated, an initiative supported by 24 pharma companies. It was designed precisely to strengthen health systems in partnership with local and global partners and it supports work on the ground to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of NCDs.
We support for example the City Cancer Challenge (CCan). This is a unique bottom-up initiative based on city governments from LMICs bidding to become a partner of the CCan initiative rather than a top-down gift.
The programmes in the cities – first Calì, Asuncion, Yangon, Kumasi now joined by Porto Alegre, Tbilisi, Leon, Kigali, and Greater Petaling – are driven by local steering committees, with technical support from CCan. This is an ambitious holistic programme that aims to create more impact through better coordination, avoiding the usual piecemeal approach.
Of course, cost and pricing of medicines are also big concerns. Through innovative financing mechanisms and new public-private partnerships, many pharmaceutical companies are supporting health authorities to bring transformative treatments to previously unreached patients.
We believe that the way to improve access to medicines, quality generics as well as innovative drugs, is to ensure that the conditions are there which allow for differential pricing to make innovative medicines more affordable and accessible in LMICs. Critical to making this happen is a form of ‘social contract’, whereby we all commit to do our part to move the needle on improving access.
Tackling NCDs and delivering UHC are two intractable global health challenges that we have just 10 years to meet if we are to achieve the health Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 3).
While talk of partnerships and greater multi-stakeholder engagement is a key topic of this week’s meeting - a High Level Commission has just issued its recommendations to the WHO underscoring the importance of ‘encouraging dialogue’ with the private sector – we have been down this road many times before.
The time for translating dialogue into action is here so let’s not get tangled up in over-cautious bureaucracy. We in industry are willing to be active players and urge all our potential and actual partners to engage with us in making UHC a reality.
By Thomas Cueni