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World Bank Report Documents Rise Of Noncommunicable Diseases In S. Asia

“South Asia is facing a health crisis, with rising rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and patients facing impoverishment as they pay for treatment out of their own pockets,” according to a report released Wednesday by the World Bank, Reuters reports (Lyn, 2/9).

“Life expectancy in the region is currently 64 and is rising, thanks to poverty reduction. But many South Asians will face health challenges in their twilight years because of the cost of chronic disease treatment and the long-term impact of impoverished childhoods when they did not have enough to eat, according to the report on tackling noncommunicable diseases [NCDs] in the region,” the Canadian Press reports (Mason, 2/9).

“The report, which covered Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, said South Asians suffer their first heart attacks at 53, six years earlier than people anywhere else. Heart disease is now the leading cause of death for South Asians aged 15 to 69,” Reuters writes (2/9). “Non-communicable diseases now account for more than half of all disease in the region traditionally plagued by infectious maladies, the bank said,” Bloomberg adds (Bennett, 2/9).

South Asia remains “home to the world’s largest number of poor people, with more than 1 billion – some two-thirds of the population – living on less than $2 a day. And while chronic ailments are now the region’s largest health problem, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, along with deaths linked to maternal, child and nutrition, remain a dual problem in many countries,” according to the Canadian Press (2/9).

The burden of NCDs “is especially harsh on poor people, who, after heart attacks, face life-long major illnesses, have to pay for most of their care out of their savings or by selling their possessions, and then find themselves caught in a poverty trap where they can’t get better and they can’t work,” World Bank Senior Public Health Specialist Michael Engelgau said, according to a World Bank press release. “Engelgau sa[id] that low birth weight –common among poor families in the eight countries of South Asia – is an important risk factor for NCDs in adults and that multiple risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and glucose, frequently occur in the same person,” the release adds (2/9).

Engelgau also noted how changes in diet and exercise, particularly among populations in urban areas may be to blame for the rise in NCDs in the region, Canadian Press adds. The article includes quotes by Dorairaj Prabhakaran, director of the Center for Chronic Disease Control, a non-profit research group in India (2/9).

The report called on countries in the region “to address risk factors that could be modified and explore regional approaches to reduce tobacco use and persuade people to adopt healthier diets,” Reuters writes (2/9). Bloomberg notes that by targeting efforts to slash “tobacco use, alcohol abuse, consumption of unhealthy fats and excessive salt intake would reduce the burden of non-communicable disease in the nations, helping boost GDP, the report showed” (2/9).

“Tackling NCDs in South Asia early on with better prevention and treatment would significantly spare poor people the crushing burden of poor health, lost earnings, deepening poverty, and the risk of disability and premature death, which are becoming all too common in the changing demographics of the region,” Michel Rutkowski, the World Bank’s South Asia director for Human Development, said, according to the press release.

The press release highlights several recommendations included in the report to tackle NCDs while simultaneously strengthening health systems in the region (2/9).