WHO: Diseases Cost African Region $2.4 Trillion A Year
WHO launches an investment case to achieve SDGs and universal health coverage in Africa
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 630 million years of healthy life were lost in 2015 due to the diseases afflicting the population across its 47 Member States in Africa, now amounting to a loss of more than 2.4 trillion international dollars ($) from the region’s gross domestic product value annually.
A recent WHO publication shows that despite commitments by African Heads of State to spend at least 15% of the government budget on health, only four countries were able to attain this target in 2015. The data show that over the period 2000–2015, health spending as a proportion of the total budget was reduced in 19 countries. It is thus critical, given the broader scope and targets of the SDGs, to consider how a case for greater and more efficient investment in health can be made.
NCDs cause heaviest disease burden
Noncommunicable diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the largest drain on productivity, accounting for 37% of the disease burden. Other culprits for lost healthy years are communicable and parasitic diseases; maternal, neonatal and nutrition-related conditions; and injuries.
Around 47%, or $ 796 billion, of this lost productivity value could be avoided in 2030 if the Sustainable Development Goals related to these health conditions are achieved, WHO found.
Four years into the implementation of countries’ efforts towards achieving UHC, current average expenditure on health in the Region falls short of this expectation,” the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, writes in the foreword to A Heavy Burden: The Productivity Cost of Illness in Africa, which was launched during the second WHO Africa Health Forum this week in Cabo Verde.
As a target of Sustainable Development Goal 3, universal health coverage would require countries in the WHO African Region to spend, on average, at least $ 271 per capita per year on health, or 7.5% of the region’s gross domestic product.
Health and the SDGs in Africa
In the African Union’s Agenda 2063, Member States have committed to a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. Since health is a prerequisite for sustainable economic development, improving health is essential to achieve this aspiration.
The results of the WHO AFRO study demonstrate that diseases and health conditions in the region are responsible for substantial losses in both health and current and future economic productivities. The average cost per DALY of HICs and UMICs is twofold and sevenfold higher than that of LMICS and LICs, respectively.
Alcohol not mentioned in the report
Controversially, the report does not mention alcohol even once. The analysis examines several SDG targets under the overall goal to achieve health and well-being for all (SDG 3) but skips SDG 3.5 “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.” The omittance of alcohol in the analysis of health-related costs for sustainable economic development is controversial and problematic.
Recent WHO data, published in the WHO Global Alcohol Status Report 2018, shows that countries in Africa are now bearing the heaviest burden of alcohol-related disease and injury, and that WHO projects alcohol consumption will increase, not decrease, around the world by 2025 – a trend that will greatly affect African countries, their young people and sustainable development.