Global Rise in Cancer Cost $300 Billion in 2010, Harvard Economist Says
(Corrects cost of pulmonary disease in fifth paragraph of story published June 20.)
Newly diagnosed cancer cases cost the global economy $300 billion in 2010, as illnesses once believed to be largely confined to wealthier countries took hold in developing nations, a Harvard University economist said.
Tobacco use, alcohol intake, obesity and decreased physical activity have grown in poorer countries, causing the rise of cancer and diabetes, said David E. Bloom, professor of economics and demography at Harvard’s School of Public Health in Boston. Bloom and other researchers held a briefing today in advance of the United Nations High Level Meeting on noncommunicable diseases.
The Sept. 19-20 meeting will be the first gathering of the UN Assembly dealing with cancer, cardiovascular illness, chronic lung conditions and diabetes. These diseases cause 60 percent of deaths worldwide, killing 36.1 million people annually, according to an April report by the World Health Organization.
“Noncommunicable diseases will evolve into a staggering economic burden in the coming years,” Bloom said. “It’s a huge impediment to the mitigation of poverty.”
Bloom said treating newly diagnosed cancer cases cost $300 billion globally in 2010, and obstructive pulmonary disease -- often correlated with smoking tobacco -- costs $400 billion a year.
Not Confined to Health
“Economic policy makers like ministers of finance and ministers of planning see noncommunicable diseases as an issue confined to the health sector,” a misperception that needs to be addressed, Bloom said. “Dangers of NCDs are well-ensconced in the business screen of the world community,” he said.
The global decline in productivity due to illness and deaths from noncommunicable diseases will reach $35 trillion by 2030, Bloom said, an amount seven times larger than the current level of global health spending. Noncommunicable diseases undermine physical and human capital, as losses of labor put a burden on developing countries, he said.
“The main asset the poor possess is their labor, and that is the most threatened by the noncommunicable diseases,” Bloom said.
Cary Adams, chief executive officer of the Union for International Cancer Control, said people in poorer countries were “getting fatter, lazier, smoking too much tobacco, and eating unhealthy food.”
“It is the poorest people in the poorest nations that suffer the most,” said John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, at the briefing.
Seffrin said more than 80 percent of noncommunicable diseases occur in low and middle-income countries. “Noncommunicable diseases perpetuate the poverty cycle,” he said.
The estimate of the costs of noncommunicable diseases includes medical care, transportation, information and education campaigns, and productivity losses from those who die, Bloom said. Of 14,000 business executives surveyed worldwide, he said half believed that noncommunicable diseases would have a negative impact on their bottom line.
“Think about health spending as not consumption but investment,” said Bloom. “As investment that yields a handsome rate of return.”
“This is a moral issue,” Seffrin said. “Unlike other health problems in the past, we know what’s coming.”
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