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World Health Day: prioritising prevention for a healthier future
5 Apr 2024 | Words by Star People

World Health Day aims to raise awareness about major public health issues. Led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), this year’s theme is ‘My health, my right’.

Despite incredible medical advancements, millions lack access to basic health services due to socioeconomic factors like poverty, geographic isolation, discrimination, and lack of education.

According to latest WHO statistics:

  • 1 billion+ people lack access to essential health services
  • 225 million+ fewer women and girls have access to health services compared to men and boys in the same countries
  • Non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes make up nearly 75% of global deaths with low-income populations disproportionately affected
  • Approximately 3.7 billion people can’t afford essential healthcare costs

Prevention vs. cure

The focus on preventative healthcare is crucial, with preventable diseases continuing to claim millions of lives and place massive strain on global healthcare systems.

In 2024, an estimated 41 million global deaths were caused by non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes – conditions sometimes preventable through lifestyle changes and early detection.

Here in the UK the NHS Prevention Programme is aimed at improving population health. Preventing illness and disease is vital to reducing health inequalities and is at the centre of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Over 28% of UK adults are classified as obese, while latest GOVUK findings reveal that 25% of people with long-term health conditions reportedly smoke. According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), smoking costs the NHS around £2.5 billion per year for treating illnesses such as lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

GOVUK figures also state that obesity costs the NHS £6 billion annually. This figure is expected to rise to over £9.7 billion each year by 2050, and according to Public Health England, the costs related to treating alcohol-related illnesses are estimated to be around £3.5 billion per year.

The economic case for investing in prevention is clear. According to WHO estimates for 2024, the total annual cost of providing treatment and health services for non-communicable diseases amounts to over $3.5 trillion globally.

Pharma and preventative healthcare

As an industry pharma takes several approaches to contribute to advancing preventative healthcare:

1. Vaccines: Developing and manufacturing vaccines against infectious diseases like influenza, pneumonia, HPV, etc.

2. Screening tests: Some pharma companies develop diagnostic tests and screening kits for early detection of conditions like cancer, genetic disorders, etc., to aid in prevention and timely treatment.

3. Awareness campaigns: Major pharma companies run public awareness campaigns on disease prevention, healthy lifestyles, routine checkups, and screenings.

4. Risk management drugs: Drugs that help manage risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity etc. aid in preventing downstream diseases like heart disease, stroke etc.

5. Digital health tools: Some companies are investing in digital health technologies like apps and wearables that can help monitor health markers and encourage preventative behaviours.

6. Research on preventative drugs: There has been an increase in research into drugs that could potentially prevent diseases before they occur, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

7. Partnerships and initiatives: Pharma companies partner with governments, NGOs and advocacy groups on public health education and prevention programmes.

While drug development for treatment remains a major focus, pharma companies are putting more emphasis on preventative healthcare as it aligns with their core purpose and presents business opportunities.

Star People is part of Uniphar, a trusted global partner to 200+ of the world’s best-known pharma and medtech organisations, providing tailored specialist services and solutions for our clients’ changing needs, and working to improve patient access to medicines around the world.

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