Over the past century, health improvements in vaccines, antibiotics, environmental sanitation and nutrition have saved millions of lives and have become powerful catalysts for economic growth. Better health promotes economic growth by expanding the workforce and increasing productivity, while bringing huge social benefits. However, in recent years, attention to rising medical costs (especially in mature economies) has always been the focus of policy debates, while medical treatment as an investment to obtain economic returns has lacked discussion.
Poor health and health inequality have been limiting economic prosperity. This is manifested in two aspects. First, premature death reduces the size of the potential labor force, thereby limiting economic growth. In 2017, more than 17 million people died prematurely. Second, it is difficult for people with poor health to engage in economic activities. For example, in 2017, people in the 15 to 64 age group lost 580 million years of labor due to poor health.
In total, the losses caused by health problems in 2017 exceeded 12 trillion U.S. dollars, accounting for about 15% of global real GDP. Health shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, H1N1 influenza, and SARS may cause additional humanitarian and economic costs. It is predicted that the measures taken to control the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce global GDP by 3%-8% in 2020.
As the world reimagines public health and rebuilds the economy, it provides a unique opportunity for all mankind to not only restore the past, but also vigorously promote broad-based health and prosperity.
Potential of “burden reduction” of various diseases by 2040 (%)
Health intervention is mainly an action to improve personal health, which can reduce the burden of disease globally. This matter has great potential. Specific measures include public health programs, surgical operations, and adherence to medication, as well as interventions recommended by major institutions such as the World Health Organization or the National Medical Association. By 2040, the reduction in the burden of disease may have more impact on population health, the economy, and broader welfare.
Enhance the value of human health
It is estimated that by promoting preventive measures and adopting effective treatment methods, the global disease pressure will be reduced by 40%. This scale of burden reduction will be of great significance; by 2040, child mortality can be reduced by 65%, cancer deaths can be reduced by 29%, cardiovascular disease deaths can be reduced by 39%, tropical diseases and malaria deaths can be reduced by 62 %. In total, by 2040, there will be 230 million people in the world who will avoid death due to diseases due to related measures, and half of them will be people under the age of 70. For middle-aged people, this change may allow them to maintain good health for 10 years, making the health of the 65-year-old at that time similar to the health of the 55-year-old.
Although the overall potential for improving the health of the global population is huge, the effects of known preventive measures against specific diseases vary widely. About 70% of the benefits can be achieved by taking preventive measures, encouraging healthy behaviors, and expanding access to vaccines and related medicines; the remaining 30% comes from treated diseases and acute diseases, including drug treatment and surgical treatment. Chronic diseases are more challenging to deal with.
In order to obtain the highest health intervention benefits at the lowest cost, researchers used cost curves to conduct research and found that for more than 40% of health improvements, the net cost of each health year extension is less than $100. Specifically, in low-income countries, the most cost-effective interventions include child immunization, malaria prevention and treatment, safe delivery, adequate nutrition, and prevention of cardiovascular disease. In low- and middle-income countries, assisted delivery by professional midwives can solve 1% of the total disease burden, while only paying 0.1% of the total additional cost; treatment of malaria and tuberculosis, prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, and lifestyle changes Education and drug prevention are also very important. In high-income and high-income countries, the greatest health improvement comes from the implementation of prevention strategies for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, including weight control, smoking cessation, drug abuse, and prevention and treatment of waist health problems.
The economic benefits of health improvement are huge enough to increase global GDP by 12 trillion US dollars in 2040 or increase GDP in 2040 by 8% on the original basis; converted into GDP growth rate, it is to increase the average annual growth between 2020-2040 The speed increased from 2.6% to 3.0%. These effects are mainly produced through the labor market, including through the reduction of early deaths, better health status, higher labor force participation rate and productivity of healthy people.
If estimated using the method used to measure welfare in applied economics, between 2020 and 2040, the health benefits of avoiding death and reducing disease will reach about 100 trillion US dollars (without adjusting income levels). At the same time, improving health can also reduce the health gap within and between countries, and may also help reduce income inequality within the country.
The role of innovation in improving health
Today’s intervention is an innovation of the past. Without them, a healthy life span would not be as long as it is now. Innovation is still essential to solve diseases for which there is no known cure. In the list of diseases for which there is no known cure, mental health and neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer top the list.
The good news is that innovations that completely change the lives of patients continue to emerge and prove the continuing power of innovation. For example, from 1995 to 2017, the number of premature deaths due to chronic myelogenous leukemia in Switzerland decreased by nearly 70%.
Many innovations are expected to have a substantial impact on health improvement by 2040. According to estimates, these technologies may further reduce the burden of disease by 6%-10%.
These innovations can not only cure certain diseases completely, but also, by solving aging, can significantly extend healthy life span by delaying the onset of several age-related diseases. This is in stark contrast to the innovations of the past 30 years, many of which have reduced symptoms or delayed disease progression.
In addition, innovation is more digital than in the past. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) gene editing has developed faster and more accurate.
Seize the opportunity to improve health
To reap the benefits of improved health, major changes in healthcare are required. This means that governments and local authorities, companies, innovators and communities must make changes to shape the right environment and society and promote healthy lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique moment for governments, companies and communities around the world to participate in this effort. The pandemic has exposed deep-seated weaknesses in health care systems, supply chains, and social structures, as well as huge inequalities that need to be addressed.
As society recovers from the immediate crisis, it is hoped that more can be done. For example, the establishment of a better medical system and a stronger and more resilient global economy will provide all people with better health and achieve shared prosperity in the coming decades. To this end, we must pay attention to four top priorities: Make healthy growth a social and economic priority, make everyone pay attention to health, promote changes in the medical and health system, and increase innovation.