Non-communicable diseases in South Asia: contemporary perspectives

Karen R Siegel, Shivani A Patel, Mohammed K Ali
British Medical Bulletin 2014, 111 (1): 31-44

INTRODUCTION: Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as metabolic, cardiovascular, cancers, injuries and mental health disorders are increasingly contributing to the disease burden in South Asia, in light of demographic and epidemiologic transitions in the region. Home to one-quarter of the world's population, the region is also an important priority area for meeting global health targets. In this review, we describe the current burden of and trends in four common NCDs (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in South Asia.

SOURCES OF DATA: The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study supplemented with the peer-reviewed literature and reports by international agencies and national governments.

AREAS OF AGREEMENT: The burden of NCDs in South Asia is rising at a rate that exceeds global increases in these conditions. Shifts in leading risk factors-particularly dietary habits, tobacco use and high blood pressure-are thought to underlie the mounting burden of death and disability due to NCDs. Improvements in life expectancy, increasing socioeconomic development and urbanization in South Asia are expected to lead to further escalation of NCDs.

AREAS OF CONTROVERSY: Although NCD burdens are currently largest among affluent groups in South Asia, many adverse risk factors are concentrated among the poor, portending a future increase in disease burden among lower income individuals.

GROWING POINTS: There continues to be a notable lack of national surveillance data to document the distribution and trends in NCDs in the region. Similarly, economic studies and policy initiatives addressing NCD burdens are still in their infancy.

AREAS TIMELY FOR DEVELOPING RESEARCH: Opportunities for innovative structural and behavioral interventions that promote maintenance of healthy lifestyles-such as moderate caloric intake, adequate physical activity and avoidance of tobacco-in the context of socioeconomic development are abundant. Testing of health care infrastructure and systems that best provide low-cost and effective detection and treatment of NCDs is a priority for policy researchers.


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