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Health, really is affecting our wealth.

The traditional long summer break certainly hasn’t materialized this year, with Europe’s politicians trading their characteristic migration to the beach, for lengthy meetings and conference calls to deal with jittery markets and beleaguered economic forecasts.  It doesn’t take a tarot reader to predict that policies designed to stimulate economic growth will be  top priority in September as Brussels gets back to business, but what about bigger picture policies affecting other aspects of our well-being?

In the field of health policy, the global spotlight will clearly be on the UN’s Summit on non-communicable diseases (NCD) in September.  This is only the second time in the history of the UN that the General Assembly will meet together with Heads of State and Government to join forces on an emerging health issue.  Heart disease, strokes, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes are quite literally the biggest killers on the planet.  Reading some of the WHO’s own stark statistics, the ups and downs of the stock market look more like the whimsy of the casino in comparison..

WHOAnd yet, in order to obtain the media and political attention this topic deserves, it too, needs to play the economic card.  With nine million people dying of non-communicable diseases before the age of 60, these diseases are, according to Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, delivering a ‘two punch blow to economies and development’.  The WHO emphasizes that NCDs result in literally hundreds of billions of lost dollars in the national product of developing countries, and that workforces are measurably shrinking as a result, thereby curtailing economic growth.

Yet more cause for pessimism?  Not necessarily. Whilst the future of the global economy might indeed seem like a game of chance, when it comes to preventing NCDs, there are many cost-effective solutions, or as the WHO puts it, ‘Best Buys’ which can reduce risks and cut treatment costs.  In the developed world, the private sector, civil society and governments are already working in partnership to tackle these issues, but expectations for the Summit are high.  The challenge is also to scale-up efforts in low and middle-income countries too, where the disease burden really bites.

So alongside all the headlines and turmoil of bond markets, the eurozone debt crisis, and austerity measures, September is also likely to bring a stark reminder of the message that health, really is affecting our wealth.

Rosemary Stone

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