Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) constitute today the number one cause of death worldwide. Most of these diseases are preventable as they are directly associated to our daily life style, particularly the socio-economic factors. At the same time, considering elements such as the link between the health of the population and its productivity, the availability and high cost of treatment, low quality health services, and lack of national health strategies, these diseases have a major impact on the economic, social and political schemes in middle and low income countries.
With the aim to explore and further elaborate on these topics, the Department of Economics at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in collaboration with the Applied Economics and Development Research Group and the Center for Research on Population and Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences, organized on February 16-17, a global conference on NCDs at the Issam Fares Institute Auditorium at AUB.
The conference, entitled The Economics of Non-Communicable Diseases in Lower- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC), brought together local and international experts and scholars to discuss the micro and macro-economic aspects of NCD control and prevention in lower-and middle-income countries, showcase the findings of the 5th Lancet Series on Non-Communicable Disease, which will be launched later this year, and set a research agenda for LMIC based on these research findings.
Keynote speakers included Rachel Nugent, vice president of Global Noncommunicable Diseases at RTI International, and an expert in assessing the economic benefits and costs of NCDs; Ali Mokdad, Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and Director of Middle Eastern Initiatives at the University of Washington; Awad Mataria, Regional Advisor for Health Economics and Financing at the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean and Stephen Jan, Head of the Health Economics and Process Evaluation program at the George Institute and Professor of Health Economics at the University of New South Wales.
Professor Iman Nuwayhid, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Dr. Nisreen Salti, Associate Professor of Economics at AUB opened the conference, highlighting the complexity of NCDs in the region and the importance of finding ways to leverage our capacity to reduce NCD-related morbidity and mortality in low- and middle-income countries. Speakers discussed a range of topics including the burden and macroeconomics of NCDs, (the economics of mental health and cancer), and how economics as a discipline can contribute to the response to NCDs in the region and beyond.
While the speakers worked with various populations across different countries, there is clear evidence that economics and NCDs are heavily interrelated across contexts. According to Dr. Jad Chaaban, Associate Professor of economics at AUB, NCDs eat up a large portion of our GDP, and will become even more of an economic burden over the next decade. In addition to being a national burden, NCDs also place economic burdens on individuals and families, with “cost being the number one barrier for accessing healthcare [among] cancer patients," as highlighted by Professor Stephen Jan of The George Institute for Global Health, Dr. Rabih El Chammay, Head of the Mental Health Program at the Ministry of Public Health in Lebanon, emphasized the importance of addressing mental health as a part of NCD-related development goals, particularly considering the heavy burden of mental health illnesses, and their role as both a precursor and consequence of other NCDs.
The second day of the conference comprised of group discussions on the necessity of setting up a regional network on the economics of NCDs to address research-related challenges and propose concrete goals around this network's vision for 2018-2020.
The two-day event was funded by a generous grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.