“Never too late” to prevent ill health

  • LONDON: Global health leaders meet to galvanise action on prioritising the prevention of ill health
  • New report reveals that failing to invest in prevention could cost governments over £500bn a year

Representatives of the World Health Organization; OECD, World Economic Forum; the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP); and the United Arab Emirates Prime Minister’s Office will join other UK and global health policymakers in London today at the culmination of a year-long programme of work (Prevention in an ageing world) exploring how health care systems can better prevent ill health in old age.

“Never too late”, a new report for global health policymakers, launched today by the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC), the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, argues that healthcare systems have a responsibility to ensure the prevention of poor health is a priority across people’s lives.

The report finds that in better off countries (1), in 2017 alone, 27.1 million years were lived with disability due to a number of largely preventable age-related diseases, with years lived in poor health set to increase by 17% over the next 25 years, if governments fail to prioritise preventative health interventions right across the life course.

Among those aged 50-64, these preventable illnesses cost better off countries $692 billion (£532 billion) in sick days, presenteeism and early retirement a year, composed of:

  • $390 billion (£300 billion) as a result of cardiovascular disease
  • $250 billion (£192 billion) as a result of type 2 diabetes
  • $39 billion (£30 billion) as a result of flu
  • $9 billion (£7 billion) as a result of lung cancer
  • $4 billion (£3 billion) as a result of HIV

Governments across the world have repeatedly stated their commitment to prevention across the life course – from support for the WHO’s Decade of Healthy Ageing to G20 statements affirming the importance of prevention.

However, despite the clear economic and social benefits of investing in prevention, preventative services are often the first to be cut in times of crisis and remain consistently low at an average of 2-4% of total health spend across OECD countries.

The report argues that in order to follow through on commitments to prevention, governments need to:

  • Democratise access to preventative interventions, in order to tackle growing health inequalities;
  • Inspire and engage people, communities, professionals and policymakers with the need to take action to promote good health and prevent illness; and
  • Effectively utilise technology to deliver preventative interventions.


ILC Chief Executive Baroness Sally Greengross OBE argued:

“We know that preventative health works and that the economic and social costs of failing to act are huge.

And whilst Governments across the world have increasingly recognised the costs of failing to invest in prevention, too often these services are the first to be cut at times of financial squeeze.

In an ageing world this needs to change. We need to ensure that preventative health initiatives are focussed on all ages. It’s never too late to prevent ill health.

Preventative services must be accessible to all or we run the risk of even greater health inequalities. Technology can play a role, but we can’t assume there are easy technological fixes.

Meeting policymakers across the world over the past year, we heard warm words about the importance of prevention. It’s time for these warm words to be matched by action and investment.”


Dr Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage and Healthier Populations, World Health Organization argued:

“Health is crucial to how we experience older age.”

“Most of the health problems that confront older people are associated with chronic diseases. Many can be prevented or delayed by engaging in healthy behaviours. Indeed, even in very advanced years physical activity, good nutrition and stopping tobacco use can have powerful benefits for health and wellbeing”.

“Prevention is primordial but we also need to detect physical and mental health problems early, manage them effectively through person centred and integrated care and make sure that people with chronic conditions and significant limitations in mental and physical capacity live in accessible and supportive environments that enable them to continue to get where they need to go and do what they need to do”.


Alyaa AlMulla, Director, National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing, Prime Minister’s Office, UAE, added:

“The UAE’s ‘Happiness & Wellbeing’ agenda is about working integratively across the government to mainstream wellbeing principles. Adopting a life-course approach to health and wellbeing is central to prevention and relevant policy interventions. Our Centennial 2071 Vision is focused on anticipating important future megatrends and working proactively to address them, starting now and well into the future”


Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, Member of Executive Committee, World Economic Forum said:

“Population ageing is poised to become one of the most significant social and economic transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society.”

“At the World Economic Forum, we endorse a lifespan approach to healthy ageing and longevity with emphasis on prevention and addressing determinants of health across the life course.”


Prof David Salisbury, Fellow, Chatham House, previously Director of Immunisation, Department for Health and Social Care said:

“We know that we need to give attention to childhood vaccination but we also must give as much attention to vaccination of adolescents, pregnant women, those with clinical risk factors and older persons.”

“Healthy living is for all ages and everyone has the right to be protected from infection. Vaccines can do just that.”


Speakers at the global launch include:

  • Dr Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage and Healthier Populations, WHO
  • Monika Queisser, Head of the Social Policy Division and Senior Counsellor to the Employment, Labour and Social Directorate to the OECD
  • Dr John Beard, previously Director of Ageing and Life Course, WHO
  • Dr Catherine Duggan, CEO, International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP)
  • Sofiat Akinola, Project Lead, Global Health and Healthcare; Council Manager, Global Future Council on Longevity, World Economic Forum
  • Alyaa Mulla, Director, National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing, Prime Minister’s Office, UAE
  • Baroness Sally Greengross OBE, Chief Executive, ILC



The Prevention in an ageing world programme engaged policymakers and decisionmakers across the world, including a side event to the G20 Health Ministers’ meeting in Japan.

For more information on the Prevention in an ageing world programme, please visit: preventionageingworld.org/

All references are available in the report “Never too late: Prevention in an ageing world”, available from: https://ilcuk.org.uk/never-too-late-prevention-in-an-ageing-world/

For more information about the global launch event, please visit: https://ilcuk.org.uk/prevention-in-an-ageing-world-global-launch/

For press queries, please contact Lily Parsey on LilyParsey@ilcuk.org.uk or 0207 340 0440/ 07745 222 553.

This report is part of the ILC’s Prevention in an ageing world programme, which has kindly been supported through charitable support or grants from Gilead Sciences, GSK, MSD, Pfizer, Sanofi and Seqirus.

Programme content has been developed independently of the funders and ILC-UK alone are responsible for the outputs.

(1) Better off countries refer to those countries identified as ‘High SDI’ and ‘High-mid SDI’. This refers to a social development index, which is a summary measure of socio-demographic development which allows for effective comparison between countries. It combines income per person, educational attainment and total fertility rate to reach a comparable index.


About ILC

The ILC is the UK’s specialist think tank on the impact of longevity on society, and what happens next.

The International Longevity Centre UK was established in 1997 as one of the members of the International Longevity Centre Global Alliance, an international network on longevity.

Since our inception, we have published over 250 reports, organised over 300 events including the annual Future of Ageing conference.

We work with central government, local government, the private sector, and professional and academic associations to provoke conversations and pioneer solutions for a society where everyone can thrive, regardless of age.