More than $46 billion lost in productivity in BRICS nations due to premature cancer mortality

25 February 2020 Hollard Group

Dread diseases such as cancer not only have a devastating effect on individuals, but can also prove to be costly for society, as they can have a potentially large impact on productivity and the overall economy. Every cancer-related death in individuals of working age, as well as every absence from work due to cancer—whether temporary or permanent—represents an economic loss to society.

“Cancer is a costly disease, with potentially significant impact on productivity and the economy, meaning that aside from directly affecting the lives of those diagnosed, it potentially also has a large scale knock-on effect on communities. This should certainly play a role in informing the prioritisation of prevention strategies,” says Hollard Group CEO, Saks Ntombela.

According to recent global studies, the costs of cancer to the economy were nearly twice as high for males compared with females, because – on average – men have higher labour force participation rates than women and are still generally paid more. “It is therefore important that prevention strategies broaden their focus beyond cancers that typically affect women, to also focus on so-called ‘male cancers’ as well, so that we can further reduce the significant socio-economic impact of cancer treatment and cancer-related deaths,” says Ntombela.

Growing concern

While recent figures for the socio-economic impact of cancer in South Africa are seemingly not readily available, Government – in its National Cancer Strategic Framework 2017 – 2022 – describes the disease as “a growing national health and socio-economic concern in South Africa”.

A study conducted by the Cancer Epidemiology medical journal in 2012 found that more than two-thirds of the world’s cancer deaths occur in economically developing countries; however, the societal costs of cancer have rarely been assessed in these settings. Furthermore, researchers found that the high proportion of cancer mortality in developing countries is likely to increase, given trends such as population ageing, changes in socioeconomic conditions and the westernisation of lifestyles.

According to this study, the total cost of lost productivity due to premature cancer mortality in the BRICS countries in 2012 was $46,3 billion, representing 0,33% of their combined gross domestic product. The largest total productivity loss was in China ($28 billion), while South Africa had the highest cost per cancer death ($101 000). When examined as costs per cancer death, losses were over five times higher in South Africa than in India, at $19 691.

“Putting a value to the socio-economic impact of cancer should provide policy- and decision-makers with a better perspective when identifying priorities for cancer prevention and control. This is specifically important in developing economies, where workforce and productivity are critical resources for ensuring sustained economic growth,” says Ntombela.

Local statistics show that prostate cancer is the most common cancer among South African men, with prevalence rates estimated to lie somewhere between 1 in 9 men and 1 in 5. When detected early, prostate cancer survival rates are better than 98%, however, if discovered late, the survival rate drops below 26%.

Other male cancers, such as testicular cancer, are more common in younger men, aged 15 to 39, with the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) citing the lifetime risk for testicular cancer in men in South Africa as one in 1 959. Again, the prognosis for testicular cancer – once treated – is good, with the average five-year survival rate at around 95%.

Late stage diagnosis

“However, despite the positive outlook for early detection, it is of much concern that the number of men being diagnosed with late stage cancer is on the rise in South Africa. The sad fact is that cancer is among the main causes of death and a great worry for both developed and developing countries, including South Africa,” says Ntombela.

Alarmingly, the Lancet medical journal predicts that South Africa could face a 78% increase in cancer cases by 2030, and research shows that already 60% more people on the African continent die from cancer than from malaria.

“More people need to recognise that knowledge is power. It would significantly affect the lives of men if they were to become aware of early warning signs and symptoms of male cancers. It is absolutely critical that men need to become more pro-active about their health and should recognise warning signs.”

He adds that, given the significant socio-economic impact of lost productivity due to cancer, men should also strive to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle, eliminating out lifestyle factors that increase their cancer risk. To raise awareness about male cancers, Hollard will host the 2020 Daredevil Run on 13th of March, in Johannesburg. The annual event – a 5km run through Joburg traffic - attracts thousands of men who run in just their purple Speedos, in a bid to raise funds for cancer screening and awareness programmes.


Quick Polls


How confident are you that insurers treat policyholders fairly, according to the Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) principles?


Very confident, insurers prioritise fair treatment
Somewhat confident, but improvements are needed
Not confident, there are significant issues with fair treatment
fanews magazine
FAnews June 2024 Get the latest issue of FAnews

This month's headlines

Understanding prescription in claims for professional negligence
Climate change… the single biggest risk facing insurers
Insuring the unpredictable: 2024 global election risks
Financial advice crucial as clients’ Life policy premiums rise sharply
Guiding clients through the Two-Pot Retirement System
There is diversification, and true diversification – choose wisely
Decoding the shift in investment patterns
Subscribe now