Words by Katie Puckett
COVID-19 has left healthcare systems around the world reeling — and pandemics are just one of the heightened threats humanity faces over the coming decades. How will we cope?
The world spends a lot of money on healthcare. But it’s not enough.
Between 1995 and 2016, global healthcare spending grew by 4% per year to reach US$8 trillion, 8.6% of the world economy. This growth was driven by economic development and by governments prioritizing healthcare.
Healthcare spending is not evenly distributed:
- In 2016, 41.7% of total health spending was in the US
- The countries of sub-Saharan Africa collectively comprised 1%
- High-income countries spent US$5,252 per citizen
- Upper-middle-income countries spent $491
- Lower-middle-income countries spent $81
- Low-income countries spent just $40
- Low-income countries are home to 10% of the global population, but only 0.4% of global healthcare spending
This growth is expected to continue.
Healthcare spending is projected to continue to increase by 1.8% annually.
The disparities will continue too:
- 69.4% of this spending will be in countries currently considered high-income
- In 2050, low-income countries will comprise 15.7% of the global population, but still only 0.6% of spending on healthcare
“Even in the wealthiest countries, we see health systems buckling under pressure. Health spending must be scaled up right away to meet urgent needs and the surge in demand”António Guterres, United Nations
But demand is increasing faster. That 4% annual increase in spending is just 2.7% per capita. The global population is increasing, and people are living longer. In 1950, average life expectancy at birth was 47. Today, it is 72. By 2050, it is projected to be 77, and by 2100, 82.
A longer life doesn’t necessarily mean a healthier one. Conditions that used to be fatal can now be cured, but survivors often have complex needs. The burden of non-fatal disease and injury is rising, and a greater number of people suffer from multiple chronic conditions. Between 1990 and 2017, the global burden of disability increased by 52%.
With economic development and prosperity comes a greater incidence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer — not only in rich countries but in the emerging economies of South-east Asia, Africa and Latin America too. The prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled worldwide since 1975. In 2017, non-communicable diseases caused 73% of deaths and 80% of disability worldwide.
Our expectations of healthcare are increasing too. Patients are starting to see themselves as consumers: they have instant access to information via their smartphones and wearables, and they don’t understand why healthcare can’t be like that too. There is growing pressure on providers to modernize and embrace new technologies.