The Novel Coronavirus nCoV or COVID-19 has been one of the most widespread diseases so far. With a death rate of 1.52 million people, many believe that this pandemic is the greatest challenge in history. But there is a bigger and far more dangerous disease that has been in our lives for longer.
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What are NCDs?

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes, are the leading causes of death in the world. They contribute to 71% of global deaths each year. This invisible pandemic causes more death and suffering than COVID-19, year after year. 

NCDs kill approximately 41 million people every year. This is more than the population of Malaysia and Singapore put together! Unfortunately, many people remain unaware of this pandemic that has been wreaking havoc for quite a while now. 

NCDs are diseases which are non-infectious, meaning that they cannot spread from one person to another. They tend to last for a long duration and occur as a result of a combination of:

  • Genetic – Certain diseases such as diabetes, asthma and cancer are genetic, meaning that they can be inherited from parents or ancestors. (We will investigate how certain interventions have shown positive effects in disease management in another feature article later – Ed.) 
  • Physiological Factors – These are factors that are related to a person’s body and can be influenced by genes, lifestyle and other factors. For instance, obesity and high blood pressure are physiological factors. 
  • Environmental Factors – These include factors such as access to clean water, air pollution, sanitation and poverty. 
  • Behavioural Factors – These are factors that are related to an individual’s actions and lifestyle such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and lack of physical activity. These can be reduced through changes in lifestyle.

The main types of NCDs

  • Cardiovascular diseases (e.g. heart attacks and stroke)
  • Cancer (lung, breast, skin and the like)
  • Chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma 
  • Diabetes 

An indiscriminating disease

Just like COVID-19, NCDs do not discriminate but the most vulnerable are those living in developing countries. Poverty is closely linked with NCDs and increases the risk of death and disability from NCDs.

Each year, WHO reports that 15 million people between the ages of 30 and 69 years die from an NCD, and over 85% of these “premature” deaths occur in developing countries. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a leading voice and repository for facts and information on U.S. health-care issues shared in a post published on 29 Jan 2019, “The U.S. Government and Global Non-Communicable Disease Effortsthat chronic diseases in developing countries are not given the importance and attention it deserves (Ed.)

According to WHO (2018), NCDs account for:- 

26.6% of all deaths in Taiwan, 

63% of all deaths in India, 

68% of all deaths in the Philippines,

73% of all deaths in Indonesia, 

74% of all deaths in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand,

More than 80% of all deaths in Fiji, and 

89% of all deaths in China. 

The rate of deaths caused by NCDS are extremely high in Western countries with NCDS accounting for: – 

74% of all deaths in Brazil,

89% of all deaths in the United Kingdom, and 

91% of all deaths in Australia and Italy.

It has been predicted that by 2030, the global average NCD deaths from the total number of deaths would be 75.26%. That’s a whopping two-thirds of total fatality.

Ann Keeling, Chair NCD Alliance and IDF CEO stated “90 million avoidable deaths from NCDs will occur worldwide within the next decade if nothing is done. We’re angry and we want action!” 

The risk factors that increase the chances of NCDs include the person’s lifestyle and environment. 

This includes age, gender, genetics, exposure to pollution, lack of physical activity, smoking tobacco and drinking too much alcohol. 

The rise of NCDs poses devastating health consequences for individuals, families and communities, and threatens to overwhelm health systems. However, most NCDs are considered preventable because they are caused by modifiable risk factors. Having an healthy and active lifestyle such as regular physical activity and nutritious food reduces the likelihood of getting NCDs. 

Countries and other stakeholders have to support a holistic approach to health, which promotes good health and healthy behaviours, prevention of NCDs and accounts for the early detection, diagnosis, management, and treatment of NCDs. 

This article has been researched, compiled and written by the team at Asia Fitness Today; Sneha Ramesh – Intern, Monash University (Sunway campus), Syuhada Adam – Editorial consultant, Nikki Yeo & Jasmine Low – Director/Producer.

Asia Fitness Today has embarked on MISSION 2030 — to halve NCD rates in the Asia Pacific region by 2030. If we could ask if you could please share this article on social media or with someone you know and care about so we can perpetuate this ripples of awareness in the community. It begins with a whisper, a drop in the ocean and slowly, change can happen. It begins with us. Learn more:


World Health Organization. (2015, October 5). NCDs, poverty and development.

World Health Organization: WHO. (2018, June 1). Noncommunicable diseases.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, May 26). About Global NCDs | Division of Global Health Protection | Global Health | CDC. CDC.,out%20of%2010%20deaths%20worldwide.&text=Changing%20social%2C%20economic%2C%20and%20structural,age%20of%2070%E2%80%94each%20year.

Benham, B. (2018, April 5). Poverty Increases Risk of Non-Communicable Diseases in Lower Income Co. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

World Health Organisation. (2019, June 12). Noncommunicable diseases.

World Health Organisation. (n.d.). World Health Organization – Eastern Mediterranean Region.

Barbosa, I. (2020, April 10). The Invisible Pandemic of NCDs May Now Come To Light. Neill Institute.

Wang, Y., & Wang, J. (2020). Modelling and prediction of global non-communicable diseases. BMC Public Health, 20, 1-13. 

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