Think tank sounds alarm over non-communicable diseases

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy says the rising trend of NCDs shows that not enough resources have been spent on improving health literac

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has warned that the public healthcare system will be unsustainable if incidences of non-communicable diseases (NCD) continue on their upward trend.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the recently released National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 showed that Malaysia was in a crisis where NCDs are concerned.

The survey report shows that 8.1% Malaysian adults, or 1.7 million, above the age of 18 have all three risk factors for diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

Diabetes is on the rise, with 3.9 million adults having the disease last year compared to 3.5 million in 2015 when the previous NHMS survey was published.

The 2019 survey also shows that 52.6% of adults suffer from abdominal obesity compared to 48.6% in 2015, that stunting among children has increased in prevalence (21.8% in 2019 from 17.7% in 2015) and that 95% of adults do not consume enough fruits and vegetables.

Speaking to FMT, Azrul said one key problem was a nonchalant attitude towards NCDs.

“The NCD crisis in Malaysia is also complex as it is linked to issues of socio-economic inequality, rising cost of affordable food choices, advances in technology which increase sedentary behaviour and the belief of many that the public healthcare system will always be there to treat them.”

He cited a 2011 study which found that the cost for treating diabetes in Malaysia was RM2 billion, or 2% of the healthcare budget for that year.

“If you include the combined financial cost and the economic losses due to loss of productivity and well-being of just the top five NCDs, it becomes catastrophic,” he said.

“Our healthcare system cannot sustain itself at this rate.”

Azrul said the rising trend of NCDs showed that not enough resources had been spent on improving health literacy.

He said legislation alone was insufficient as the authorities cannot decide how people choose to look after their own health.

He added that he hoped to see a “solid commitment” in the coming Malaysia Plan to initiatives to address the NCD crisis.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran said the NHMS findings were worrying but unsurprising.

“If these issues are not addressed, we can expect to see an increase in strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure cases and related illnesses,” he said.

“Those who do not have medical insurance or who are insufficiently covered may have no option but to seek care at public healthcare facilities, which are overstretched.”

Ganabaskaran said the government emphasis on prevention needed to be better communicated to schools and workplaces and at the family level.

He said schools should increase their emphasis on physical exercise, sports and nutrition and parents needed to set good examples in encouraging their children to value a healthy lifestyle.

“Health should also be emphasised in the workplace with compulsory yearly scheduled medical check-ups for all employees.”

He lamented that many would think about their health only when they were in their 40s or 50s or when they were affected by health issues.

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