Chronic diseases: understanding the potential catastrophic cost factor

(Calgary) Chronic diseases are a growing epidemic and there have been repeated calls for intersectoral and multilevel action involving academia, governments, civil society and the financial sector worldwide to generate innovative solutions.

On March 24, the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health brought together a group of leading economists, development bankers and health policy-makers for a panel presentation at the U of A’s Calgary Centre. The group focused on the economic risk of chronic disease and the implications this emerging crisis has for every global community.

“The need is for champions across all sectors,” said Sylvie Stachenko, dean of the School of Public Health, who chaired the discussion and was instrumental in bringing together the influential panellists.

Among those who spoke was Andrè Corriveau, chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health and Wellness. Corriveau highlighted the need in Alberta for education to play a primary role in addressing the increasing number of people at risk for chronic disease. He also mentioned that technology will need to advance in order to meet the growing demand for care.

Jane Billings, senior assistant deputy minister with the Public Health Agency of Canada, provided a national perspective on the mounting chronic disease epidemic. “Four out of five Canadians currently have a risk factor for chronic disease,” said Billings, adding that “societal changes are responsible.”

Billings also highlighted the need for improved education and touched on several prevention campaigns that are working well across the country, including a ban on junk food in Ontario schools and Manitoba’s “in motion” campaign, which encourages residents to make physical activity a part of their daily lives.

Economist Rachel Nugent, deputy director of global health for the Center for Global Development, delivered an overview of the main challenge facing those trying to fight the rise of chronic diseases worldwide, that being a lack of funding. Nugent believes there is a tremendous need for the financial community to join arms with health-care providers to tackle chronic diseases, but that will only become possible if the two sides begin working together.

The panel presentation served as an excellent lead-in on the eve of the 2011 Inter-American Development Bank Annual Meetings, also held in Calgary. The discussion was a stepping stone to the upcoming UN Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases, which will be held in New York in September 2011.

The goal of the summit—at which the School of Public Health will be represented—is to develop a global strategy to address the four most prominent non-communicable diseases: cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

The School of Public Health is committed to meet the growing demand for excellent and relevant interdisciplinary research that creates links between new knowledge and public health policy in order to positively impact the global fight against chronic diseases, said Stachenko.