Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were collectively responsible for around 74% of all deaths globally in 2019, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A new report published by WHO in March highlighted the disruptions that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic caused to access to medicines for NCDs.

NCDs are often complex and chronic diseases that cannot be transmitted between people. There are four main groups of NCDs: cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and hypertension, chronic respiratory illnesses, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, diabetes, and cancer. Typically, genetic vulnerabilities and environmental factors affect susceptibility to illness, with varied risk factors such as poverty, poor diet, tobacco and alcohol use, and polluted surroundings. NCDs have become increasingly common and geographically widespread. However, NCDs disproportionately affect people in low-income and middle-income countries, where more than three-quarters of global NCD deaths occur, according to WHO.

The delivery of treatment for NCDs requires large-scale coordination across each level within the health system. During the pandemic, people living with NCDs experienced difficulties in accessing routine medicines required to manage their conditions. There were significant disruptions across the pharmaceutical supply chain. The WHO report highlighted shortages in manufacturing input materials and delays in shipping as key factors affecting the supply and distribution of NCD treatments. The resulting restrictions in access to treatment for those suffering from NCDs may have worsened individual-level treatment outcomes, at least in the short term.

NCDs such as diabetes are a serious public health concern that has been rising steadily over the years. According to GlobalData’s forecast, there are more than 190 million diagnosed prevalent cases of type 2 diabetes in 2023 across the (US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan, China, and India), with prevalence expected to rise to more than 210 million diagnosed prevalent cases in 2028. GlobalData epidemiologists predict a similar trend of increasing prevalence over the next decade for other diseases, including COPD, asthma, various cancers, and heart failure.

The WHO Implementation Roadmap for the Prevention and Control of NCDs (2013–2030) outlines an action plan to support national governments to tackle the challenges that NCDs pose to health systems. It is essential that treatment and care for people living with NCDs are prioritised in national responses and preparedness plans. Moreover, a long-term strategy is needed to strengthen access and delivery mechanisms to ensure that the provision of medicines for NCDs remains sustainable and undisrupted in the event of future outbreaks.