Monday, 3 April 2017

Tackling the burden of chronic diseases in the GCC

Rapid economic advances in the GCC countries have resulted in the population adopting unhealthy eating habits, high-sugar diets and a lack of physical activity. This has contributed to a rising incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, and respiratory diseases etc. The result is that NCDs have become the leading causes of death and disability in the region, and the countries of GCC are among the worst affected countries globally by these diseases.

The nature of NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, require patients to be in continuous contact with the healthcare system. This means more use of healthcare services, which in turn causes an increased cost on government budgets and decreases economic productivity.

The economic burden of NCDs can come in two cost forms, direct and indirect-

·   Direct costs are those associated with the treatment of patients, such as consultations, medications, and clinical operations.

·   The indirect costs comes from the fact that these diseases result in shorter life span and reduces the quality as well as quantity of the work force. Decrease in labour productivity and increased absenteeism lessens their contribution to economic activity.

Before finding a solution on how countries can tackle this burden, you must first be aware of the risk factors involved. The risk factors can be classified into two, namely-

·   Non-modifiable risk factors lie outside the control of the individual and are linked to age, hereditary/genetic conditions, socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental determinants.

·   Modifiable risk factors are behavioural in nature and include tobacco use, physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet.

Governments, can and should work on appropriate regulations and policies, that can improve some non modifiable risk factors such as environmental influences, including pollution, toxicity in products and air quality. Clinical programs for the non-modifiable risks include comprehensive national screening programs to identify at-risk groups and to ensure early detection of chronic diseases.

Eliminating modifiable risk factors requires the focussed development and implementation of a combination of short term and long-term collaborative programs.

·   Short term programs are those which deal with incentives or disincentives like high taxes on tobacco, regulations limiting the availability of unhealthy food in schools, and clinical interventions. These measures reward or penalize, to reduce the impact of risk factors.

·   Long-term programs stress on preventive care and aim to change individual practices, along with regulations and funding in the healthcare.  The results of such programs will be slow, but impactful. They aim to alter the deep rooted lifestyles of the people. These measures should aim to be long-lasting, as they will dramatically improve the health of the populace.

Governmental authorities have to take an active interest in implementation of both these programs and will have to ensure that the programs work in collaboration with other relevant actors in the field for the optimum results.

Given the magnitude of the problem, there is no time to waste. The human and economic burden will not permit passivity in approaching the situation. The GCC governments must focus on implementing national and region-wide NCD agendas that will enact short-term and long-term programs. There is no easy solution for this epidemic. It will take time and needs relentless effort from all quarters. But, with proper monitoring and measurement, investment of resources in effective programs will certainly impede GCC healthcare spending and improve the region’s health status.