KUALA LUMPUR – A new report from the Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia and the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that noncommunicable (NCDs), particularly cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, cost the Malaysian economy upwards of RM 8.91 billion, equivalent to about 0.65% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The economic cost was estimated from the productivity losses due to absenteeism, presenteeism in the workplace and the premature death of working age population in Malaysia.
Aside from productivity losses, NCDs also place a serious health burden to countries resulting from disability and loss of healthy life years, called the burden of disease costs. This is an intangible cost that is estimated to be around RM 100.79 billion, equivalent to 7.35% of GDP.
The report released on 8 September, The Impact of Noncommunicable Diseases and Their Risk Factors on Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product, utilised data from the year 2017. The latest National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 shows that the prevalence of NCDs in Malaysia continues to rise.
“Economic evaluations of NCDs allow us to understand how these diseases shape the life of our people,” said Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Director General of Health Malaysia.
“NCDs are often associated with healthcare costs, but evidence such as this shows us how NCDs hamper the social and economic development of our country.”
“Every disability and premature death from noncommunicable diseases is tragic because we know that they are preventable,” said Dr Lo Ying-Ru, WHO Representative in Malaysia. “If we are unable to manage NCDs in the country, it will result in significant impact to health and economy. We need a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach so we can turn the tide on NCDs and save lives and livelihoods.”
Tobacco use, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity are modifiable behavioural risk factors that increase the risk of NCDs. In the report, unhealthy diet contributed to two third (68.9%) of the costs of lost productivity due to premature deaths from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) while tobacco use contributed to more than one third (36.9%) of losses.
Tobacco use also contributed to the highest proportion of the losses from cancer (15%).
Member States recognized the importance of tackling NCDs to achieve sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development called for the reduction of premature mortality from NCDs by one-third through prevention and control measures.
The Malaysian Government has taken on this challenge by implementing the National Strategic Plan for Non-Communicable Disease 2016-2025 as well as associated national strategies and plans aiming at reducing risk factors for NCDs.
“It’s time to invest in the prevention and control of NCDs. Governments and other stakeholders can reduce NCDs by applying cost-effective interventions or what we call ‘best buys’,” explained Dr Lo. “At the same time, individuals can also make a difference by changing their behaviours and making a conscious decision to live a healthier life. We should all work together to beat NCDs.”
“Creating a supportive environment to support a healthy lifestyle for our people is essential in the war against NCDs,” added Dr Hisham. “Malaysia has shown highest level of political commitment by creating a Cabinet Committee for a Health Promoting Environment to support the whole-of-government response to tackle NCDs. While we are working hard to address NCDs at its roots, clearly much more needs to be done.”