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News Article

Preventive Health Leads to Better Quality of Life, Higher GDP

By Alejandro Enríquez | Wed, 09/08/2021 - 18:08

A few years ago, Novartis took part in a study on the impact of preventive medicine in Guanajuato’s automotive sector. The results were astounding: health absences and ill people going to work costed the sector 7.31 percent of its contribution to the GDP. “This is just one sector in one state. At the national level, the benefits of preventive medicine can add up to many GDP points,” says Fernando Cruz, Country President and Head of Corporate Affairs and Communication in Novartis Group Mexico.

In Mexico, preventive medicine is not a priority and it takes a considerably number of resources from private and public healthcare entities. “Traditionally Mexican patients only seek healthcare services when the disease is already presenting complications. To address this, primary attention should change to focus on population groups that are most likely to get ill but are not aware,” says Jaime Fragoso, Director of Processing Centers of Laboratorio Medico Polanco.

According to public records diabetes is the top death cause in the country. If prevented, it can bring significant savings that could be invested in more preventive strategies. Fragoso highlights that Mexico’s total expenditure on diabetes is about US$3.43 billion per year, which includes tests and preventive measures. If a fraction of that expenditure could be spent on preventing diabetes, greater savings could be achieved. “If we invest US$185 million, which is around 5 percent of the total expenditure on diabetes now, on preventing the disease among the population between 20 and 30 years old, we can save up to between 50-70 percent of the total expenditure,” said Fragoso.  

Chronical illnesses, such as diabetes, require more than just addressing the decease, explained Gabriela Allard, President of the Mexican Diabetes Association. Preventive health is also about empowering the patient to become a health promoter within their community. “Health promotion and education is not directed equally to all sectors. Patients should become health promoters to identify all those risks factors and prevent the illness in other members of their immediate environment. It is not only about the medicine or pocket expenditure, but about an individual’s entire lifestyle. The most important element is to empower the patients with the information they need,” said Allard.

The effects of preventive medicine can be seen in populations across the globe. For example, while patients living with HIV can expect a similar life expectancy than the general public, some populations of HIV patients in the UK have actually enjoyed higher life expectancy through preventive actions, according to Fragoso. “The immediate conclusion is that a person that acquires the infection becomes more health conscious and approaches the healthcare systems before turning 40 and begin to be monitored for all diseases earlier than the general population. This way, their life expectancy can be not only similar has the potential to be larger because future complications can be prevented or addressed early,” said Fragoso.

To create a solid preventive healthcare system in Mexico, the sector should agree on a long-term vision. “We need to understand the healthcare system we want for the future. First, we need a vision that includes financial sustainability to materialize a healthcare system where prevention is fundamental and where we can guarantee universal healthcare. A long-term vision will require us to leave behind the short-term vision present in the system, which is mostly based on a transactional model,” says Cruz.

According to figures of the OECD, shared by Cruz, Mexico has 1 bed per 1,000 inhabitants while the average in the organization is 4.4 beds. As for medical talent, Mexico has 2.4 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants while in the OECD average is 3.5. “A new healthcare system will rely on the willingness and the advancements of different stakeholders in coverage, medical talent and effective access to medicine,” says Cruz.

A barrier to this vision is that health policies in Mexico do not differentiate between coverage and access, said Allard. “Access and coverage are directly related to technological capabilities. Diabetes remains the same; what has improved patients’ life quality are all those devices that provide them with a better treatment.”

The path forward, she argued, sounds simple but it might be anything but. “First, we need to achieve universal healthcare coverage, that is primary attention. Then we can move to access different–and most advanced–technologies or treatments,” said Allard. In Mexico, 90 percent of the population use the public healthcare systems and only one out of 10 people use private healthcare.

To promote preventive medicine, Mexico could take a page from other countries and develop collegiate society of preventive medicine, argued Fragoso. “These associations include other stakeholders to create partnerships for preventive education. Also, medical specialization for preventive medicine is needed in the medical field. These specialists have a different focus based on biostatistics, epidemiology and other specialties that could make them the first link to prevent future diseases,” he said.

Altogether, the sector needs active participation and will. “We need to educate patients and take out the ‘magic’ element of reactive medicine. Patients should realize that their daily choices bring exponential benefits to themselves, their families and the country’s GDP,” said Allard.


Photo by:   MBP
Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst