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The annual health-care cost of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer in Malaysia exceeds RM 9.65 billion (US $2.16 billion)

A new report from the Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia and the World Health Organization (WHO), Direct Health-care Cost of Noncommunicable Diseases in Malaysia, reveals that hospitalizations, medical tests, medications, and primary care consultations of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), particularly cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, annually cost the Malaysian economy upwards of RM 9.65 billion. 

“Even without the additional threat posed by COVID-19, noncommunicable diseases are a significant health burden and public health challenge in our country. And while they are not an acute emergency or rapidly moving infectious disease, they are equally devastating to individuals, societies and economies,” said Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Noor Hisham bin Abdullah, Director General of Health Malaysia.

NCDs are the main cause of death and disability in Malaysia. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adult Malaysians are living with diabetes, 1 in 3 are living with hypertension, and nearly half are overweight or obese (National Health and Morbidity Survey, 2019). The growing prevalence of NCDs is placing an increased strain on the country’s health system.

“We saw that among the most vulnerable to the virus are people with underlying health conditions, including NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, who have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease and are more likely to die from COVID-19,” continued Dr Hisham.  

“WHO continues to support the government of Malaysia in its efforts to address the growing challenge of NCDs through supporting addressing the risk factors, encouraging adoption of healthy lifestyles and strengthening primary care for early diagnosis and improved management of NCDs,” said Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative in Malaysia.

The report released today utilized data from the year 2017. The secured data were largely restricted to the public sector, and extrapolations to the private sector were based on assumptions. While the cost estimates are based on the best available data, they no doubt underestimate the real cost of the direct health-care costs associated with NCDs in Malaysia.

Aside from the health-care costs, previous studies have estimated the economic loss due to absenteeism, presenteeism in the workplace and the premature death of the working age population as upwards of RM 8.91 billion. In addition, the cost of disability and loss of healthy life years was estimated to be around RM 100.79 billion (The Impact of Noncommunicable Diseases and Their Risk Factors on Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product, 2020). 

This information can be used to identify cost-effective ways to prevent NCDs, reduce the costs of NCD management, and prioritize the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Dr Hisham calls on collaboration to have publicly informed, evidence-based policies that could support the change in Malaysian’s behaviour.

“The problem of NCDs in Malaysia is also compounded by the fact that the country has a rapidly ageing population in which the failure to address adequately the challenge of NCDs could significantly impact health-care costs and economic well-being of the community,” added Dr Rabindra.

Malaysia is expected to reach the status of an aged nation by 2030, with people over the age of 65 making up more than 14% of the population. With the population ageing, more and more people are expected to live with NCDs in the long term. Given this demographic change, NCDs’ health and economic burden can also be expected to increase over time.

“Increasing awareness about NCDs and their management among the general population and those at risk now will contribute to increased longevity and healthy ageing of Malaysian through a reduction of premature mortality due to NCDs and their complications” said Dr Rabindra.

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