Breaking Down Chronic Illnesses in Asia

With current advancements in medicine and medical technology, it’s no surprise that people are living longer. Medical practitioners are getting better at disease prevention and detection with more advanced technology and added scientific research. Despite this, South China Morning Post notes that the world still needs to be wary of chronic diseases

Additionally, healthcare costs remains a burden for most people in Asia, especially for those suffering from chronic disease. Even if Asian countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and China have introduced healthcare insurance, most plans are basic and fail to cover the cost of the medicine and procedures are required for chronic illness treatment.

What is a Chronic Illness?

According to WebMD, a chronic disease or illness is a medical condition that can be controlled with treatment. They often do not have a cure, but living with one is manageable with medical intervention and lifestyle changes. Most common chronic illnesses include diabetes, asthma, cancer, heart disease, and mental illnesses.

Although they may seem scary, chronic illnesses are something many of us will or already do experience in some form. Yahoo Finance reports that approximately 60% of adults around the world  have at least one chronic illness. Coming from a recent study from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), more than half of Singapore’s residents will develop more than one chronic disease in their lifetime, more so after they reach the age of 60. This is a problem that is not only relevant to Singapore, but the rest of Asia as well.

Probably the most daunting aspect of chronic diseases and illnesses are the costs that come with them. According to an article by the Corporate Wellness Magazine, compared to that of a healthy person, the per capita health spending for an individual with chronic illness is eight times higher. Thankfully, plenty of chronic diseases and illnesses can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices.

Chronic Diseases and Lifestyle: Asia’s Smoking Epidemic

Scientific research has always found correlations between lifestyle choices and the development of chronic disease. A report by the World Health Organization indicates that chronic disease causes two-thirds of deaths worldwide, with most of them being due to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, or diabetes. The same study also found out that there was a higher incidence of chronic diseases with individuals who smoked, consumed alcohol, had unhealthy diets, had poor physical fitness, and had problems with their BMI.

Unhealthy lifestyle choices are unfortunately something that Asia has a problem with. For one, plenty of Asian countries have an ongoing problem with smoking: a study led by Vanderbilt University on the tobacco epidemic in Asia showed that, on average, 65.4% of men in Asia are smokers, compared with 7.8% of women.

Vietnam is one of the cheapest places where you can buy a cigarette, and the country has an estimated number of 165,000 new cases of cancer each year, with cigarette smoking accounting for more than 30% of cancer cases. ABC reveals that nearly 70% of men in Indonesia smoke, and alarmingly, so does one in five children between the ages of 13 to 15, despite the legal age being 18. This might be the case in other Asian countries, with half of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers coming from Asia.

Efforts for Changes in Lifestyle

Although statistics undeniably say that smoking is highly prevalent in Asia, efforts made by the government are being made to reduce the negative effects of smoking. Most notable is Japan, where, after introducing heat-not-burn alternative products for smokers, cigarette sales have fallen by a whopping 27% since 2016, with the overall smoking rate declining to 18%.

Indeed, plenty of harm reduction groups from around the world recognize the smoking problem Asian countries have, and have worked hard to offer alternatives. The 3rd Asia Harm Reduction Forum recently convened, where hundreds of experts and delegates from over 18 countries gathered in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss efforts in curbing the smoking epidemic.

Overall attempts at wellness in Asia have also been quite effective. Asia’s two strongest economies China and Japan are already two of the world’s major spenders on corporate wellness methods and programs, with the Asia Pacific corporate wellness market continuing growth from USD3.4 billion in 2015. In fact, market experts predict this amount can rise up to USD7.4 billion by 2024.

Chronic Disease and Aging

The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 524 million people were aged 65 or older in 2010. By 2050, the number is expected to triple to around 1.5 billion, or around 16% of the world’s population. This is due to the world’s attempts at improving length and quality of life.

Apart from an unhealthy lifestyle, most people acquire chronic diseases later on in life as they age. The US’s National Council on Aging reports 92% of senior citizens have at least one chronic disease, with 77% having at least two. The most common ones chronic diseases are heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

High incidence of chronic illnesses among the elderly is definitely a cause of concern in Asia. The Asian Development Bank projects Asia’s elderly population to be at around 923 million by the middle of this century. Paired with declining birth rates and increasing life expectancies, there may soon be more elderly people in Asia than there are children.

Access to Healthcare

With all of the concerning statistics on chronic illness in Asia, medical institutions have been working to be able to provide treatment for anyone who might be suffering from one.

Life insurance providers in Singapore have changed and tweaked some definitions of chronic illness to adapt to medical advancements. Just recently, Hong Kong designated around one billion Hong Kong dollars to develop new medical technology products that aim to improve the lives of elderly people, whether in early detection or treatment of chronic illness.

Governments all across Asia have really stepped up their programs to help prevent chronic diseases in their respective countries. Last September 2, 2019, the 72nd Regional Meeting of the World Health Organization for the Southeast Asian region was inaugurated, which focused on putting together preventive measures to counter natural disasters and prevent illness.

With government efforts and insurance providers quelling the fear of chronic illnesses through support systems and medical technology, all citizens have left to do is ensure that they make healthier choices.

One of the most common causes of chronic illness is stress. If you’re looking on how to reduce your own stress levels, check out the Lifestyle tag on Daydreaming in Paradise.