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Mainland set to pay high price for disease timebomb

South China Morning Post – 27 July 2011

World Bank report predicts big rise in chronic health problems – and huge financial losses

The mainland will see a significant rise in non-communicable diseases in the next two decades, and a big financial loss as a result, if it fails to effectively contain the trend, a new World Bank report says.

In the report, released in Beijing yesterday, the number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – chronic problems such as cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, cancer and diabetes – among people over 40 will double or even triple over the next two decades if effective prevention strategies are not implemented.

Communicable diseases account for more than 80 per cent of annual deaths and contribute to 68.6 per cent of the total disease burden, the report said.

The rising tide of NCDs stems from the ageing population and unhealthy lifestyles, including the high smoking rates among males, growing obesity due to increased consumption of fast foods and sugar-rich soft drinks, and decreased physical activity in cities, according to the report.

The rising number of NCDs will lead to mounting medical costs and have a severe impact on individuals and families, said Klaus Rohland, World Bank country director for China. “There is a substantial economic cost associated with NCDs.”

Cardiovascular diseases, strokes and diabetics will result in financial losses of US$55 billion from 2005 to 2015, whereas estimates given for the mainland indicate that the economic benefits of reducing cardiovascular diseases by just 1 per cent per year, over a 30-year period, could generate an economic value equivalent to 68 per cent of the country’s real GDP in 2010, more than US$10.7 trillion, the report says.

It identifies the next 10 years as a critical time for the mainland to prevent and control the trend, saying it can be curbed or managed by adopting good practices.

“Cost-effective policy options exist for adopting a comprehensive multi-sectoral response to deal with NCDs in China,” said Wang Shiyong , a World Bank health specialist and the lead author of the report.

“With more healthy behaviour, improved socio-economic environments conducive to health, and expanded access to quality health services, not only do people live longer, but their quality of life is also improved by the reduction of sickness and disabilities.”

Patricio Marquez, a World Bank health specialist and the report’s co-author, recommended stricter tobacco and alcohol controls, such as higher taxes and the restriction of smoking in public places, as well as well-organised and better-funded primary health care services.

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