Governments Urged to Invest at Least 6% of Health Budgets in Prevention

The International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) has today launched its G20 flagship report calling on governments to reorient their health systems to prevent and better manage health conditions amid efforts to build back better following the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Following a 2-year global engagement programme with policymakers and key thought leaders across the G20, the “Window of opportunity” report calls on governments to heed the lessons from the pandemic to prioritise public health, as population ageing and increasing health inequalities risk increasing blow on economies.

The report by ILC, the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, finds that in 2019 alone, G20 citizens aged 50+ collectively lived 118 million years with disability due to largely preventable conditions. For those aged between 50-64, this cost economies $1.02 trillion in lost productivity. That is roughly equivalent to the estimated loss in global worker income for the first half of 2021 as a result of COVID-19. And the flu alone cost these countries $27 billion in sick days during that time – roughly equivalent to what India spent on its military in the same year.

As a starting point for meaningful action, ILC is calling on all G20 governments to invest at least 6% of their health budgets on preventative interventions, including vaccination, early detection of disease, lifestyle changes and better management of existing health conditions. For the UK, reaching this target would require a £2.687 billion investment, which is less than 5% of the £60 billion spent on COVID-19 measures.

Canada has been making this investment since at least 2010 and has since seen a significant decrease in avoidable deaths and one of the highest survival rates for cancer. The research moreover finds that countries, where a higher proportion of health spending is covered by the Government, have the highest healthy life expectancy. The report authors argue that investments should be made to reduce out-of-pocket charges and ensure cost is no barrier to preventative health interventions.

Alongside investment, the report by ILC, the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, calls for all countries to develop national preventative health strategies, including national life course vaccination programmes that see parity of uptake targets at all age groups.

The “Window of opportunity” report moreover calls for a move towards integrated healthcare systems, with shared objectives, outcomes and budgets across public health, health services and social care. As part of better integration, ILC calls for better collaboration between the formal healthcare system and external stakeholders, including NGOs, community-based organisations, workplaces, and in-home healthcare services that proved vital during the COVID vaccine rollout for example.

Prof Annelies Wilder-Smith, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at LSHTM and Focal Point of the WHO’s COVID Vaccine SAGE committee, argued:
“The pandemic has unmasked how vitally important it is to have systems in place to efficiently reach older persons with vaccines.”

Finally, the report authors argue it will be vital for G20 countries to extend and enhance data coordination efforts established in response to COVID-19, and create a regulatory path for digital solutions as well as support data sharing across healthcare systems to support person-centred care and put people in charge of their own health.

Arunima Himawan, Research Fellow at ILC argued:
“Increasing efforts on prevention is not a cost, but an investment. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified health inequalities, but the pandemic has also shown us how quickly governments can respond. There is a window of opportunity now for governments to act and build lasting change.”

“We need to heed the lessons from COVID-19 and use the infrastructures built during the pandemic – from better public health messaging and improved collaboration across professions, to targeted community engagement and the better use of data and technology.”

“The starting point for meaningful action on prevention is investment. Without it, we will likely see a huge increase in the number of people living in ill health which will not just impact people’s lives, but the economy too.”