December 3, 2013

GCC Governments Must Develop National and GCC-Wide: Non-communicable Diseases (NCD) Agendas

If GCC governments fail to enact measures to curb the rising prevalence of NCDs, the total economic burden is expected to reach $68 billion by 2022.

Rapid economic advances in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have led to the population adopting a sedentary lifestyle. The result is a rising incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular illnesses, cancer and respiratory diseases. NCDs have become the leading cause of death in the GCC. And, their prevalence – which is at epidemic levels – is undermining the societal gains stemming from economic development. In fact, with current prevalence rates, the total direct and indirect cost of the most common NCDs for the GCC will be close to US$36 billion in 2013 – one and a half times official healthcare spending. Given the magnitude of the problem, GCC governments must act rapidly. According to Booz & Company, they must develop national and GCC-wide NCD agendas that will enact short-term and long-term programs before the epidemic imposes a heavy toll on their societies.

By the Numbers

The truth is, non-communicable diseases have been linked to developed economy lifestyles, namely bad eating habits, high-sugar and fat-heavy diets, and a lack of physical exercise. Increasing wealth has, of course, also had positive public health effects. However, in the GCC, as elsewhere, these gains to public health and individual well-being are now being offset by the increasing prevalence of NCDs and associated mortality rates.

“The result is that NCDs have become the leading causes of death and disability, thus making the GCC one of the region’s most affected by the global increase in chronic diseases,” said Gabriel Chahine, a Partner with Booz & Company. “This trend is projected to result in NCDs causing over three-quarters of all deaths globally by 2030, up from 63 percent in 2008, with significant cost implications for healthcare systems.”

In effect, the economic burden of NCDs comes in two cost forms, direct and indirect.

“Direct costs are typically those associated with the treatment of patients,” added Jad Bitar, a Partner with Booz & Company. “More significant is the indirect economic penalty that NCDs impose. From a national perspective, NCDs reduce life expectancy, which means less output.”

By developing an econometric model using the Cost of Illness model and the latest available and reliable statistics, Booz & Company was able to generate estimates for the direct and indirect costs of NCDs in 2013, and forecasts for the expected burden in 2022.

“We calculated that the total direct and indirect cost for the five selected NCDs in 2013 will rise to around $68 billion by 2022,” stated Chahine.

Tackling the Issue

To tackle the crippling financial and human costs of NCDs, GCC governments and other stakeholders need to understand the underlying risk factors associated with these illnesses.

“There are two kinds of primary NCD risk factors that are root causes of these illnesses: non-modifiable and modifiable,” said Pierre Assouad, Senior Associate with Booz & Company. “In terms of policy responses, modifiable risk factors are the most amenable to change and have the highest impact on individuals. Non-modifiable risk factors lie outside the control of the individual and are linked to age, hereditary/genetic conditions and other socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental determinants.”

An Effective Strategy: With risk factors growing and healthcare budgets already under strain, GCC governments need to sound the alarm within their societies and embark upon national programs to stem the NCD epidemic.

“The goal of national programs that combat NCDs should be to disseminate positive behavioral messages that educate the population about imminent health risks, rather than to simply defensively focus on restraining the growing incidence of chronic diseases,” said Bitar.

Assouad also added, “GCC countries therefore need to urgently factor NCDs into their long-term health planning and they should aim for a better quality of life for residents, a reduction in unnecessary medical costs and improved productivity.”


  • Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 29 percent of deaths from NCDs globally.

  • Malignant neoplasms cause 13 percent of global NCD deaths.

  • Chronic respiratory diseases contribute to 7 percent of global NCD deaths.

  • Neuropsychiatric conditions are responsible for 2 percent of NCD deaths worldwide.

  • Diabetes mellitus cause 2 percent of NCD deaths around the world.