- Dr. Tej Ram Jat
Programme Manager Public Health, HelpAge International, Myanmar
Myanmar is currently walking on the path of rapid economic growth and development which is opening up several opportunities and at the same time posing serious challenges. One of these challenges is epidemiological transition shifting the burden of morbidity and mortality from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes etc.
As per the World Health Organization 59% of all deaths in Myanmar are due to NCDs. The results of STEPS survey of 2014 revealed that 94% adults in the country are living with at least one high risk factor of NCDs. The major risk factors behind the unprecedented rise in the prevalence of NCDs are harmful use of alcohol, tobacco use, insufficient physical activity and unhealthy diet which are aggravated by globalization, unplanned urbanization, marketing of unhealthy foods, promotion of sedentary lifestyle and inadequate public health policies. The burden of NCDs is predicted to increase with further rise in the pace of development in the coming years.
NCDs are chronic long term diseases that need ongoing management and treatment. They put huge economic burden on individuals, families and nations. On the one hand, individuals and families need to spend huge amounts on NCD treatment as out of pocket expenditures and governments need to invest more on strengthening services for management and treatment of NCDs, on the other hand, household income and Gross Domestic Product are lowered due to disability and deaths caused by NCDs.
The government of Myanmar has been making efforts for addressing NCDs which are reflected in the steps such as integrating NCDs into government’s priority action agenda, establishing NCD unit in the department of public health, piloting of package in essential NCD interventions, planning for strengthening NCD services and developing draft NCD policy etc. However, the efforts made so far are not sufficient to tackle the problem.
It is high time we make comprehensive efforts for addressing NCDs in Myanmar. We must ensure multi-sectoral synergetic efforts such as developing strategic action plan on NCDs, strengthening health services for screening, referral and management of NCDs, raising public awareness on healthy life style, encouraging people for more physical activity, promoting healthy food, introducing sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. Adequate human and financial resources must be ensured for addressing the country’s rapidly expanding NCD health needs. The government needs to establish coordination mechanism for engaging all concerned ministries and other stakeholders so that necessary action is taken at all levels of Myanmar society. The research gaps on NCDs needs to be filled through conducting in-depth research on areas requiring urgent investigation. International donors and development partners must be encouraged for supporting synergetic actions on NCDs in Myanmar as a priority in their development assistance programmes.
All these efforts will not only require leadership and initiative by the government but they will also need fully active and enthusiastic participation by all segments of society and by all concerned stakeholders. Let us all come together and join hands for making a conducive environment for healthy living and addressing NCDs in Myanmar.
(The views expressed in this article are author’s personal views.)