South Asia facing health crisis: World Bank

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WASHINGTON - India and other South Asian countries are facing a health crisis with rising rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that can hamper development, a new World Bank report warns.

Empirical evidence is scant, but earlier projections suggested that ten years from 2005, deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes might have been likely to lower GDP in India and Pakistan by one percent from what it would have been without that burden, it says.

Heart disease in the region is now the leading cause of death in adults aged 15-69, and South Asians suffer their first heart attacks six years earlier than other groups worldwide, says the report?Capitalising on the Demographic Transition: Tackling Noncommunicable Diseases in South Asia.

A recent study of 52 countries from all over the world, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, found that South Asians were six years younger (53 vs. 59 years) than those in the rest of the world at their first heart attack and had high levels of risk factors, such as diabetes and high lipids and low levels of physical activity and healthy dietary habits.

The new report says that with average life expectancy in South Asia now at 64 years and rising, people are getting older without the better living conditions, healthier nutrition, rising incomes, and access to good healthcare that benefitted older people in developed countries in previous decades.

As a result, South Asians are becoming more vulnerable to heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and obesity, and are creating significant new pressures on health systems to treat and care for them, it says

The new report encourages the eight countries of South Asia to adopt and carry out a number of country and regional approaches to reduce both unhealthy risk factors in their general populations and control heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and other NCDs.

In terms of population-based interventions, the effects of key tobacco measures and a reduction in salt intake of 15 percent modelled in 23 low- and middle-income countries found that over 10 years, 13.8 million deaths could be averted, at a cost of less than 40 cents per person a year.

For Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan (the three South Asian countries among the 23), the model predicts deaths averted in a range of 50-70 per 100,000 of the at-risk population (the population over age 30).

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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