On the path that ends all illness?

December: We take World AIDS Day as an opportunity to examine the future of global health

Ipsos | Almanac 2024 | Health

1 December marked the 35th anniversary of World AIDS Day. Almost four decades on from the outbreak of the epidemic, today 39 million people globally live with HIV. According to UNAIDS, in 2022, 1.6 million people were newly infected with HIV, with 630,000 people dying of AIDS-related deaths – more than one every minute.

But these numbers are a fraction of what they were two decades ago at the height of the epidemic. New infections are down 59% from the peak in 1995 and AIDS-related deaths are down 69% from the peak in 2004.

This year UNAIDS released its new report “The Path that Ends AIDS” setting out the path to ending AIDS by 2030 and demonstrating that countries that are already on this path are already seeing incredible results.

But optimism for the future of health isn’t restricted to just HIV and AIDS. Globally, across 31 countries, one in two (51%) of us now believe that, eventually, all medical conditions and diseases will be curable.

Among the 18 countries included in each of the 2013, 2022 and 2023 waves of this study, this is up three percentage points (pp) on average. However, optimism in the power of the medicine of the future is notably reduced from last year (-8pp among the 18 trended countries).

How might the future of healthcare be different?

Ipsos | Almanac 2024 | HealthAmong doctors themselves, the role that digital technology will play in the years to come is becoming clear. Primary care physicians (PCPs) from across 20 markets see an increasing role for connected health devices (CDCs), which make it easier for patients to understand their own health and health conditions, and allow patients to have more effective conversations with their healthcare provider.

But while CDCs come with clear benefits, patient empowerment is also coupled with the risk of patients, misinterpreting data, self-diagnosing their illness and self-managing their condition without physician supervision.

The rise of artificial intelligence also presents many opportunities. Four in ten PCPs believe AI automates repetitive tasks (45%), and improves efficiency (40%) and accuracy (40%) of diagnosis.

What do people worry about when it comes to health?

Our Global Health Service Monitor has been tracking public views on health and healthcare systems across 31 countries since 2018. Concern about mental health has been steadily rising up the rankings over that time and this year it became the number one most worrying health issue around the world.

In 2022, just over a third of people (36%) around the world thought of mental health as one of the biggest issues facing people in their country; today more than four in ten (44%) think this. Cancer (40%) and stress (30%) make up the rest of the top three.

But different parts of the world worry about different issues. While mental health is a top concern for most globally, in four countries it does not even feature in the top three biggest health worries. In India, Hungary and Japan, cancer concerns dominate. In Mexico, it’s diabetes and obesity that worry people most.

Where are the gains to be made? While one in two globally describe their country’s healthcare as good, majorities in all but six countries describe their healthcare system as overstretched (62% on average globally). More than three in four people say this in France (82%), Great Britain (81%), Hungary, Sweden (both 79%) and Ireland (77%).

On average globally, people see not having enough staff (46%) and access to treatment / long waiting times (46%) as the biggest problems facing the healthcare system in their country. But equal access to good healthcare also emerges as an issue.

Six in ten globally say that many people in their country cannot afford good healthcare – rising to more than eight in ten in Brazil (83%), Hungary (82%), Peru and South Africa (both 81%). In a similar vein, a third globally do not believe that their country’s healthcare system provides the same standard of care to everyone. This view is particularly widespread in Hungary (68%) and Chile (58%).

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The mental health gap

Despite almost eight in ten globally saying they think mental health is equally important as physical health, only a third think their country’s healthcare system treats them as such, according to Ipsos’ World Mental Health Day survey.

The five largest perceived gaps are all located in Latam. More than eight in ten say mental and physical health are equally important in Argentina (88%), Colombia, Peru (both 87%), Mexico (84%) and Chile (81%). Yet these countries are also some of the least likely to say that mental and physical health are actually treated equally, with a 58–67-point gap between equal importance and equal treatment.

It is perhaps no surprise then that these countries are also some of the most likely to say that over the past year they have felt stressed to the point where it had an impact on their daily lives, they felt like they couldn’t cope, they could not go to work or felt depressed to the point that they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for a couple of weeks or more. Find out more about the social condition of Latin America in LatAm Outlook 2024.

Ipsos | Almanac 2024 | Health

An apple a day

This increased focus on health is something we also see reflected in our food choices. The 2023 edition of the Tetra Pak Index found three in four people (74%) across ten countries say they are interested in buying food with specific health claims.

Rising awareness and concern about mental health is evident here too. Eight in ten (83%) say they consume products that support their mental health and the joint-second most desirable health-related products are those that are good for both physical and mental wellbeing.

Seven in ten (69%) say they are now trying to be healthier to prevent future illnesses and two-thirds of people (66%) say they pay more attention now to what they eat and drink – up 4pp since 2021.

In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, the focus on healthier eating looks here to stay. While six in ten (60%) worry that rising prices will limit their access to healthy food, only 17% say they would sacrifice food and drink with health benefits in order to save money. Seven in ten (70%) even say they would sacrifice convenience if it means getting healthier products.

Will all this be enough to put us on the path that end all illness?