The Key to Fighting Chronic Disease in South-East Asia: Young People

More than half the ASEAN region’s 630 million people are under age 30. Harald Nusser, Head of Novartis Social Business, says that to fight the rise of chronic disease in South East Asia we need to inform its youth on the importance of healthy lifestyles.
May 10, 2017 12:00 PM ET

Increasing longevity, urbanization and poor lifestyles are contributing to a massive increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South-East Asia. According to the World Health Organization, 55% of all deaths in the region are due to NCDs – that is nearly 8 million people every year. More worryingly, one-third of those dying as a result of NCDs are younger than 60. Such premature mortality causes immense social and economic loss.

The growth in NCDs has also led to a “dual burden of disease” for these countries – having to transform health systems built to fight infectious diseases and provide acute care to ones which can manage the silent epidemic of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illnesses and cancer. What are the policy and operational implications of addressing this dual burden?

Four important aspects stand out. The first is health systems integration. Many infectious disease programmes were developed in so-called “vertical” formats, with different silos for diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. These now need to be integrated in order to provide care across diseases, beyond specific conditions with a patient rather than just a disease focus. An example is HIV, where the need for long-term antiretroviral treatment has led to the upgrade of supply chains to minimize stock-outs in lower-income countries. Similarly, treatments for chronic disease require well-managed supply chains.

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