Sri Lanka holds the record of the country with the highest incidence of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Communicable Diseases (CDs) and Injuries in the world. Mortality rates from NCDs are currently 20-50% higher in Sri Lanka than in developed countries – especially for cardiovascular disease and asthma.
In 2008, the percentage of all deaths due to NCDs was 65.4, with deaths from cardiovascular disease being 29.6%. In 2004, NCDs from the total country disease burden was 50.9%.
Sri Lanka also has an unacceptably high rate of malnutrition in children and anaemia in pregnant mothers.
These shocking facts emerged from a media seminar on ‘NCD Policy, Action Plan and Prevention’ at the Health Education Bureau, Friday.
Dr Thalatha Liyanage, director, NCD Unit, said NCDs had now overtaken even communicable diseases in Sri Lanka, placing a double burden on the country. The commonest NCDs are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer.
The prevalence of diabetes closely linked to hypertension, strokes, ischaemic heart diseases, the main causes for hospitalisation in Sri Lanka was 10.9%. “Diabetes is increasing rapidly. One in five adults has diabetes or is at the pre-diabetic stage. One third of diabetic persons are undiagnosed cases. NCDs account for a large share of premature deaths in the country. This fact is serious enough to merit a public policy response”, she said.
“The Health Ministry’s current policy objective is to reduce premature mortality (in persons less than 65 years) due to chronic NCDs by two percent annually over the next ten years. We hope to achieve this goal through the expansion of evidence-based curative services and individual and community-wide health promotion measures for reduction of risk factors causing NCDs,” she said, calling on the media for support in raising awareness.
NCDs start when a child is still in its mother’s womb. By eating a healthy diet, the mother to-be can reduce the risk that pre-dispose diabetes and other NCDs in later life, she emphasised.
Dr Palitha Maheepala, Acting Secretary, Ministry of Health endorsing her views, said that Sri Lanka had several risk factors for NCDs: an increase in the elderly population, set to overtake the youth population by 2040, rural to urban migration resulting in adoption of unhealthy urban lifestyles and dietary habits, and lack of exercise. A recent study by a Japanese expert on Lankan eating habits revealed that Lankans consume too much salt, and too little vegetables, fruits and fish which were freely available.
“Chronic or lifestyle related diseases can be significantly reduced and prevented since we already have the knowledge and technology to fight the onset of NCDs” , he reiterated.