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Latest findings on non-communicable diseases: what is happening in Asia and the Pacific?

By Ian Anderson

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released documents about the four main non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases – that kill or disable people prematurely (between 30 and 70 years of age). One WHO report, Why is 2018 a strategically important year for NCDs?, provides estimates of NCD premature deaths globally. As can be seen in Table 1 below, WHO estimates that there were 15 million premature deaths from NCDs in 2015. This is significantly more than the 12 million deaths from communicable and perinatal diseases. Importantly from a development perspective, 80% of premature NCD deaths occur in middle-income countries, with most premature deaths (41% of the global total) occurring in lower middle-income countries. WHO states that while the risk of premature deaths from NCDs has been falling in all income groups, the decline was much larger in high-income countries, thereby increasing the gap with low and middle-income countries.

Table 1: Premature deaths in 30 – 70 year olds in 2015

Measuring the policy responses to reduce the burden of NCDs

Reducing premature deaths and disability is important because they impose large financial, economic and social costs on households and government budgets, and many NCDs are often preventable – or at least can be postponed – through reductions in risk factors. Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 aims to reduce premature death by one third by 2030. The 2011 United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs agreed on a set of “best buys” and other interventions that countries could adopt to prevent and control NCDs. Another recent WHO report, Noncommunicable Diseases Progress Monitor 2017, assesses progress at the country level. In essence, the assessment tracks 19 specific indicators, summarised below:

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