NCDs weighing heavily on Jamaica’s economy
The economic impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Jamaica, including mental-health conditions, will lead to a lost output of US$17.2 billion over the next 15 years. This is according to a 2011 study by founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, and dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, Julio Frenk, titled 'The Global Economic Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases', which found that it is expected to cost more than US$30 trillion to treat and manage NCDs globally over the next 20 years, pushing millions of people worldwide below the poverty line.
NCDs have been established as a clear threat, not only to human health, but also to development and economic growth, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Economists are increasingly expressing concern that NCDs will result in long-term macroeconomic impacts on labour supply, capital accumulation and gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide, with the consequences most severe in developing countries like Jamaica.
Director of non-communicable diseases and injuries prevention in the Ministry of Health, Dr Tamu Davidson-Sadler, said Jamaicans suffering from an NCD could spend up to one-third of their household income to treat and manage their condition.
"Out-of-pocket expenditure to treat NCDs is extremely high. We know that treating and managing NCDs have a significant impact on the country's budget and GDP, and we are actually seeing where data have shown that the economic loss due to treating NCDs, including mental health, is estimated to be 18 times Jamaica's health expenditure in 2013," said Davidson-Sadler.
IMPACT ON QUALITY OF LIFE
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton said these figures show the real impact of NCDs on the quality of life and cost of living for Jamaicans.
"Normally, people don't come to terms with the financial impact that this will cause until they are actually in the situation. What we have to do is give people sufficient information to demonstrate that it will have that impact eventually. Because we tend to be a society that seeks more instant gratification, we don't think about the long-term consequences until it reaches us," Tufton said.
The World Health Organization reports that NCDs kill more than 38 million people globally each year, with Jamaica recording approximately 12,773 deaths as a result of NCDs in 2014. Tufton postulates that cultural norms play a big role in getting Jamaicans to live healthier and longer.
"People are aware of lifestyle diseases, even if they don't understand what NCDs really mean. People understand that eating habits can affect them in the long term, in terms of health. They know that excessive sugar, salt, fats, alcohol and tobacco can create long-term ailments, but the cultural norms that they are accustomed to, in which they typically consume dumpling and rice every day with a lot of oils and the drinking of the carbonated drinks, is a problem. It's a learnt behaviour from early, and so you have to exercise a lot of discipline to stay away from it," Tufton said.
He said the health ministry is trying to encourage a change in behaviour through long-term education programmes and even through legislation.
"We are doing some of that (legislation) through a Food Task Force that is being set up, which should provide some recommendations soon. The Food Task Force is going to recommend a number of measures to influence choice and to possibly restrict choice in some cases," said the minister.
Tufton said the Food Task Force will also be looking at school environments and the types of foods that are allowed and consumed, such as sugary, carbonated sodas.