By Faith Atieno

Close to seven million deaths could be prevented by 2030, if low and lower-middle income countries were to make an additional investment of less than a dollar per person per year in the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.

Currently, NCDs including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and respiratory disease, cause seven out of every ten deaths around the world and 85 percent of premature deaths (between ages 30-69) from NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries, yet their impact on these countries is often underestimated.

The report titled Saving lives, spending less, explains how every dollar invested in scaling up Best Buy actions in the 76 low- and lower-middle-income countries could generate a return of up to USD 7 – potentially USD 230 billion by 2030.

“With the right strategic investments, countries that bear a significant amount of the NCD burden can change their disease trajectory and deliver significant health and economic gains for their citizens,” said the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many of these diseases can worsen outcomes for the pandemic, the report emphasizes the urgency of investing in NCD prevention and management, stating that the 16 recommended Best Buy policies, will not only protect people from NCDs, but also reduce the impact of infectious diseases like COVID-19 in the future.

“In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing we can be certain of is that without action, NCDs will continue to be a significant threat to global health. Investing in these evidence-based policies is an investment in a healthy future,” said the Director-General.

The report also indicates that in as much as each of the interventions-which are relatively inexpensive and require little capital investment- can be implemented individually, the effects are stronger and produce a greater return on investment when introduced together.

Moreover, with marginalized groups often at greater risk from the physical and financial impact of NCDs, the interventions may also help to reduce health and economic inequalities.

“Non-communicable diseases take a terrible health and economic toll, especially on countries that can least afford it” says WHO Global Ambassador for NCDs and Injuries Michael R. Bloomberg. “We know the prevention measures that work best, and hopefully this new report leads more governments to take the smart, cost-effective actions that can help save millions of lives around the world.”

These Best Buy actions include increasing health taxes, restrictions on marketing and sales of harmful products, information and education, and vaccination as well as actions connected to managing metabolic risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, in order to prevent more severe disease or complications.