PETALING JAYA: The country spent a whopping RM22.53bil to treat non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases among Malaysians in 2017.
This figure was revealed in a report titled “The direct healthcare cost of non-communicable diseases in Malaysia” released by the Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday (Aug 9).
The joint study was based on 2017 data, with experts warning that the cost of treating NCDs will spiral in the coming years owing to the nation's growing aging population.
"NCDs are the main cause of death and disability in Malaysia.
"Their growing prevalence is placing increased strain on the country’s health system through a rising demand for health services.
"Given the country’s ageing population, the health and economic burden of NCDs can be expected to worsen over time," the ministry stated in the report.
The ministry noted that the total direct health-care costs of the three selected NCDs were estimated at RM9.65bil which did not take into consideration the estimated loss of productivity to the nation, amounting to RM12.88bil.
"For overall expenditure by NCD category, the estimated total healthcare cost for diabetes was RM4.38bil (45.38%) followed by cardiovascular diseases (CVD) with RM3.93bil (40.73%) and cancer with RM1.34bil (13.89%)," the report said.
The study also found that hospitalisation costs amounted to RM1.58bil for the three NCD categories.
The report also noted that it was likely that many patients admitted with a principal diagnosis of CVD would have diabetes, a common precursor to a cardiac event.
The cost of primary care consultations for the NCDs was about RM4.2bil.
The report also said that the true direct healthcare cost related to NCDs in Malaysia was underestimated.
"It must be kept in mind that the estimates only relate to the three largest categories of NCDs and exclude others such as chronic respiratory diseases, mental health and osteo-arthritis," the report noted.
The study also did not take into account other cost factors related to the three NCDs such as rehabilitation, palliative and long-term care, among others.
It was revealed that RM1.72bil was spent on medications for the three selected NCD categories.
Other expenditures included medical tests amounting to RM1.67bil in 2017 with the largest portion for heart diseases (RM899.83mil) followed by diabetes (RM661.26mil).
Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah noted that more people would be living with NCDs in the long term as the nation faces an aging population.
“Malaysia is expected to be an aged nation by 2030, where people of the age of 65 will comprise over 14% of the population.
“This demographic change means that the health and economic burden of NCDs may increase,” he said In his opening remarks at the release of the report.
Meanwhile, a co-author of the report, Jaithri Ananthapavan, acknowledged the limitation in data to give a true picture of the actual cost of tackling the NCDs.
“What we need to acknowledge is although we know the costs of ‘big ticket’ items such as hospitalisation and primary care, it is difficult to estimate the magnitude of costs that were missing," she said.
She noted that the report does not include ancillary costs such as rehabilitation costs and nursing time costs among others.