Medical experts: Prioritise tackling NCDs

Heavy burden: NCDs put a strain on public healthcare.

PETALING JAYA: Experts have called on new Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa to look into the alarming rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country as one of the main priority areas.

According to “The direct healthcare cost of non-communicable diseases in Malaysia” report released by the Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in August, Malaysia spent RM22.53bil to treat NCDs such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases in 2017.

Citing statistics from the National Health and Morbidity Survey, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economy and public health specialist Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh said NCDs are the main causes of death and disability in Malaysia.

She added that it is estimated that one in five adult Malaysians is living with diabetes, one in three living with hypertension and nearly half are overweight or obese.

“NCDs accounted for 67% of premature deaths in Malaysia and over 70% of the burden of disease in 2014,” she said.

Many, she said, are unaware that they are on the verge of developing NCDs.

Therefore, health promotion and education needs to be ramped up, she added.

“When the (NCD) burden is high, it means many people are affected. So, the government loses money in managing them,” she said.

Apart from that, she said the high cost burden of NCD will also lower productivity, the quality of life and lead to early mortality.

She said upgrades are needed in terms of number of staffers, drug options and better treatment to manage the NCD burden.

Public health advocate Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said NCDs such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic obstructive airway disease have been on the rise in the past 10 to 15 years, and will continue to rise in the next few years.

He said smoking, cholesterol and sugar intake are risk factors for NCDs.

Prevention through healthy lifestyle practices in childhood and adulthood, regular screening and early treatment, physical activities and restricting the intake of harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and food with high fat and sugar content are key to preventing NCDs, he noted.

Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said in a statement that private hospitals have the infrastructure for the screening of diseases, particularly NCDs, and as an immediate step, the health minister should consider outsourcing to private hospitals to control the increasing complications of such diseases.

The Health Ministry’s report noted that the total direct healthcare costs of the three selected NCDs - diabetes, cancer and heart diseases - were estimated at RM9.65bil, which did not take into account the estimated loss of productivity to the nation amounting to RM12.88bil.

For overall expenditure of the 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 read. The study also found that hospitalisation costs amounted to RM1.58bil for the three NCD categories.

The cost of primary care consultations for the NCDs was about RM4.2bil.

The study also did not take into account other cost factors related to the three NCDs such as rehabilitation, palliative and long-term care.

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