World Bank Report: NCDs are Causing a Health Crisis in South Asia

Posted on: February 9th, 2011 by Arogya World

The World Bank released a report on February 9, 2011, on the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Asia. The reduction of poverty in the region means that people are living longer (with life expectancy currently at 64 years and rising), which is great news. But the lifestyle changes associated with better living and longer lives have created new challenges.

South Asian countries, the World Bank warns, are “facing a health crisis with rising rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which disproportionately affect poor families, with possible side effects of disability and premature death, and worsening poverty as people pay for medical treatment out of their own pockets.”

According to the report, “heart disease in the region is now the leading cause of death in adults aged 15-69, and South Asians suffer their first heart attacks six years earlier than other groups worldwide.”
Dorairaj Prabhakaran, director of the Center for Chronic Disease Control, and Arogya World Steering Committee member, was quoted in an article from the Canadian Press, saying “It took almost 200 years for the U.S. and the U.K. to reach this high state of cardiac disease, which we are reaching in 40 or 50 years or so because of the rapid economic transition that’s occurring, and all the other changes that are happening within one’s life span.”

NCDs now make up more than half of the disease burden. “Therefore,” the authors of the World Bank report say, “a larger share than communicable diseases, maternal and child health issues, and nutritional causes combined.” A pattern, they note, which is eerily similar to that which higher income countries experienced years ago. “South Asians are becoming more vulnerable to heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and obesity, and creating significant new pressures on health systems to treat and care for them.”
With health systems unable to cope with people getting sick younger and staying sick longer, the authors recommend four steps that may be taken to meet this challenge:

  • Collaborate on group purchasing of essential medications;
  • Establish a health technology assessment institution;
  • Synergize regional education and training capacity; and
  • Establish a regional network of surveillance and burden assessment.