6 min read 6 Aug 21
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on public health. On top of the deadly virus itself, treatments have been postponed and other health issues have gone undiagnosed. The world’s most vulnerable communities have been disproportionately affected.
Prior to the pandemic, major progress had been made in preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Despite a growing global population, the number of people dying from infectious diseases fell by 40% between 1990 and 2016.
Non-communicable illnesses, like cancer and cataracts, that are caused by genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, have instead accounted for a growing share of global deaths. Their burden – in terms of years lost due to premature death and years lived with a disability – rose from 43% in 1990 to 62% in 2017.
Once mortality rates from COVID-19 have been more widely suppressed by mass vaccination programmes worldwide, non-communicable illnesses will again become a greater focus of attention.
For investors looking to help address global health and wellbeing challenges, I believe there are an exciting range of ways to put long-term investments to work beyond the traditional healthcare sector, dominated by pharmaceutical companies.
As a general rule of thumb, prevention is often more effective – and cheaper – than the treatment of illnesses. Take the role of affordable and near-universally available toothpaste, for example, in mitigating the need for expensive, complex dental surgery.
Personal hygiene is key to the effective prevention of avoidable illnesses, as well as to stopping the spread of infectious diseases. Companies that intentionally play a meaningful role in improving hygiene can therefore be impactful investments, in my view.
I believe companies that encourage and support healthy lifestyles – and so help reduce the chance of preventable diseases arising from poor health – can also deliver a significant positive impact.
This creates opportunities for impact investors in areas like gyms and sportswear, as well as the likes of healthy foods and sustainable agriculture. Less obvious, perhaps, would be companies that help foster better quality sleep and more positive mindsets through their products and services.
New technology is playing an increasingly critical role in improving medical outcomes and raising operational efficiency in the provision of healthcare. In many respects, the pandemic has forced an acceleration of this trend through disruption to traditional models.
Telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through use of video and phone technology – has been adopted en masse over the past year or so, for instance.
Although they have their limitations, remote consultations are well suited to managing chronic diseases and mental health, and can avoid long waits in surgeries where illnesses can be transmitted. By increasing access to doctors and improving the efficiency of delivering health services, companies whose technologies enable remote consultations and testing can deliver a positive impact.
Analytics software can also materially improve health outcomes, for example where they can help optimise complex medication regimes. This is especially relevant in ageing societies where growing numbers of people are on multiple drugs, increasing the risks of overdose or adverse reactions.
I believe application of technology to solve healthcare challenges illustrates how effectively private investors can contribute to better global health and wellbeing, while also pursuing long-term financial returns.
The views expressed here should not be taken as a recommendation, advice or forecast.
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