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Global Public Health
Policies that Underestimate NCDs Could Blunt Economic Growth in Asia
Policies that Underestimate NCDs Could Blunt Economic Growth in Asia
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A new report from the Economist - The Shifting Landscape of Healthcare in Asia Pacific – confirms that people in our region are living longer, but not necessarily healthier, with overburdened, provider-led healthcare systems that lack comprehensive strategies to address emerging non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes and mental illness.

We provided a grant for the development of this independent research report, which examines whether current health policies in Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea are coping with the sharp rise of NCDs while these countries continue to tackle an existing burden of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.

There is a quote in the report by Professor Aikichi Iwamoto, chair of Japan’s National HIV Surveillance Committee, who notes that one difficulty in dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in much of Asia is that “health systems in many countries are more adjusted to acute infections where people are cured by antimicrobials in five days.”

This accurately captures the history of a region that has endured deadly emergency outbreaks of viruses and influenzas for more than a century, most recently with SARS and Avian Flu. These outbreaks understandably receive high-level government attention because of their immediate threat to lives as well as to local economies.

Health is an established predictor of economic growth. Not only does good health improve worker productivity by reducing incapacity, disability and lost workdays, but studies have shown that both men and women who are in good health tend to earn higher wages, and that children with good health achieve better academic performance. The reverse direction of these influences is also well recognized.

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Many people believe that NCDs only affect the elderly, but they now strike more “working age” adults under age 60 than the elderly. In fact, a global survey of business executives by the World Economic Forum identified NCDs as one of the leading threats to global economic growth. In low- and middle-income countries like India and China, NCDs such as cancer and diabetes can reduce GDP by as much as 1 percent annually.

If the report tells us that “half of the 62 million people in India who have diabetes do not even know that they have it” – according to Dr. Shaukat Sadikot, President-Elect of the International Diabetes Federation – how will this impact India’s labor force and economic growth potential?

Among all NCDs, mental illness is now the greatest contributor to disability worldwide, causing 35-45 percent of absenteeism from work in developed economies. Yet none of the countries in the report, except Australia, provide adequate standard of care or long-term community support for people with mental illnesses.

I fully agree with the report’s conclusions, which call for all healthcare stakeholders to collaborate on common strategies, a more robust focus on prevention, the need for new structures and tools and, perhaps most importantly, that we must realign all efforts to prioritize patients.

Prioritizing patient-centered care will enable sustainable solutions to meet the complex NCD challenges facing every country, including the high-income countries in the report. Patients deserve and need to be partners in managing their own health so they can better recognize and report risk factors and early warning signs. This will require significant cultural changes in some countries, and it won’t be easy.

We must remain optimistic and committed to inspiring and encouraging positive changes in the spirit of better health outcomes for patients.
We will continue to support innovative policies and public-private partnerships that will help effectively reduce the burden of NCDs and improve the lives of patients in our region while positively influencing the potential for economic growth.

Since being appointed as Company Group Chairman of Janssen Asia Pacific in 2014, Kris Sterkens has secured high-profile, long-term R&D investment agreements with major governments as well as initiatives to improve access to the company’s medicines.

Under his leadership, operating companies across the region have launched a range of programs to improve the lives of patients by applying innovative technology solutions that address unmet medical needs, creating funding schemes that improve affordability, and forming public-private partnerships to support people living with chronic diseases and the healthcare professionals who care for them.

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