Millions die worldwide each year for lack of quality care

By HealthDay News  |  June 5, 2018 at 11:34 PM
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TUESDAY, June 5, 2018 -- Eight million people in less-developed countries die needlessly each year, and that loss of life strips $6 trillion from the economies of those nations, new research calculates.

If the rate of preventable deaths continues unchecked, those countries could lose $11 trillion in gross domestic product by 2030, the researchers reported.

"It is important to attach monetary cost to the otherwise immeasurable loss of human life, because those numbers can provide economic incentives that spur changes in policy and health care investment that save lives," said senior study author Dr. John Meara. He directs Harvard Medical School's Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, in Boston.

Meara added that "$6 trillion in losses in one year for low- and middle-income countries alone is an eye-opening number. That may be just the perspective needed to propel lifesaving measures."

For the study, Meara and his colleagues analyzed diseases in 130 low- and middle-income countries that are treatable in higher-income nations. The data came from the Global Burden of Disease (2015) project.

The human toll of lost life is clearly incalculable, the researchers said, but capturing the dollar value of such devastation is also important.

The economic toll would affect the poorest countries most, further exacerbating the economic disparities between rich and poor nations, the study authors said in a Harvard news release.

These findings highlight earlier research that suggested that loss of life from lack of access to high-quality medical care in poor countries fuels a cycle of economic devastation, the researchers noted.

According to study co-author Dr. Blake Alkire, "In addition to the obvious humanitarian concerns that arise from the fact that 8 million people are dying around the world every year from illnesses we know how to treat and cure, our findings emphasize that expanding access to health care in low-resource settings is insufficient." Alkire is an instructor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School.

"We cannot adequately address the loss of life and associated massive economic impact unless an emphasis on quality is also at the forefront of health-systems strengthening," he said.

Another study co-author, Dr. Alexander Peters, stressed that "good health care should not be a luxury available only to people in high-income countries."

Peters, a surgery resident at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and a research fellow at Harvard's Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, added, "It's an ethical and economic investment in sustainable development that we can't afford to pass up."

Dr. Mark Shrime said that "it's not enough to say that everyone should have access to health care if we don't deliver quality care that is necessary to keep people from dying or living lives diminished by diseases that we know how to treat."

Shrime, who is research director of the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, explained that "to really make a difference in people's lives, and to give these nations the tools they need to reduce poverty, our research shows that high-quality care must be included as a central tenet of universal health coverage."

The report was published in the June issue of the journal Health Affairs.

More information

For more about global health, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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