Says NCDs responsible for 85% of ill health; wants policy changes and more awareness
By Shezna Shums
Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) can undermine Sri Lanka’s growth prospects unless lifestyle and medical changes are made speedily say a new World Bank report.
The World Bank report, which was launched on Monday, warns that a demographic transition is well underway in Sri Lanka and that the country faces escalating health care costs with rising rates of non communicable diseases (NCD) such as heart disease, cancers, diabetes and asthma as well as their risk factors such as obesity, smoking, high sugar and salt diets and alcoholism.
Improving lifestyle and reducing risk factors while concurrently improving the quality of health services will promote healthier aging and reduce the impact of NCDs on Sri Lanka’s development, the report stated.
“Sri Lanka needs a healthy and productive population to sustain its transition to a middle income country and it is important for policy makers and the public to work together to prevent and control this disease burden.” said Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka.
According to the new report ‘Prevention and control of selected non-communicable diseases in Sri Lanka” NCDs have already become the largest contributor to the disease burden in Sri Lanka, accounting for 85 percent of ill health and early death. A South Asia regional study has found that South Asians suffer their first heart attack six years earlier than other groups worldwide.
This burden of NCDs will rise in the future, in part, due to further aging of the population with the doubling of the population over the age of 65 from 12.1 percent to 24.4 percent over the next 30 years. The burden of NCDs is also increasingly shifting towards the poor.
“Reducing risk factors such as tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption along with an active lifestyle and improved diet will go a long way towards aging. Importantly this work highlights the cost effective policy and health system interventions which if prioritised now, can help mitigate the longer term financial impact of NCDs,” said Julie Mclaughlin, World Bank South Asia’s Health Manager.
The new report says that with average life expectancy in Sri Lanka now at 74 years and rising, and increasing urbanisation and the accompanying life style changes, people are increasingly exposed to risk factors for NCDs.
People have become more sedentary, consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has increased, and diets have become less healthy. As a result Sri Lankans are becoming more vulnerable to NCDs creating new pressures on the health system to treat and care for them.
“Reducing risk factors as tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption along with an active life style and improved diet will go a long way towards healthy aging. Importantly this work highlights the cost effective policy and health system interventions which if prioritised now, can help mitigate the longer term financial impact of NCDs.” stressed Julie Mclaughlin, World Bank South Asia’s Health Manager.
Given the relatively low health spending of 4% of GDP in 2008, NCD care in Sri Lanka is increasingly financed by out of pocket spending by the general public. “Tackling NCDs in South Asia early on with better prevention and treatment would significantly spare poor people from the crushing burden of poor health, lost earnings, deepening poverty and the risk of disability and premature deaths.”
The new report encourages Sri Lanka to adopt a number of population based and individual patient based approaches to reduce unhealthy behaviours in the general population and control heart disease, diabetes, cancers and other NCDs.
More efforts such as more effective legislation on the use of transfats and tobacco as well as public education to reduce salt intake would help delay the onset of these diseases.
At the clinic level, aspirin and beta blockers for high risk individuals could reduce the chances of cardiovascular diseases.