Western Pacific faces toll from "lifestyle" diseases

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Western Pacific countries face an increasing economic toll from mainly preventable illnesses such as strokes, heart disease and diabetes, a World Health Organization official said on Sunday.

Dr Shin Young-soo, the WHO’s director for the Western Pacific said 75 percent of deaths in the region were due to Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs).

“Developing countries in the region are losing an increasing number of people who are still economically productive, so NCD is no longer just a health problem but an economic one,” Dr Shin said in an interview ahead of a WHO regional conference next week in Malaysia’s administrative capital of Putrajaya.

The number of deaths from NCDs which are caused mainly by smoking, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise, has increased steadily in the past decade, said Dr Shin, and lost productivity between 2005 and 2015 will cost China over $550 billion, according to WHO statistics.

The Western Pacific region is made up of 37 countries ranging from China and Mongolia in the north to New Zealand in the South.

Half of the 26,500 people who die daily from NCDs in the region are under 70 years of age and classified as economically productive.

The growing problem of NCDs would require countries to look at how to spend their health budgets more effectively.

“Many NCDs require long term treatment, so healthcare systems need to evolve so that some of the care can be provided at the patient’s home for example, which would free up hospital resources,” said Dr Shin.

Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by David Fox