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Health Costs in Asia Expected to Rise

A group of elderly women rest in their wheelchairs at a residential compound in Beijing, China.
A group of elderly women rest in their wheelchairs at a residential compound in Beijing, China.
Health Costs in Asia Expected to Rise
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Asian countries are expected to face higher health care costs over the next 10 years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says improvements in Asia’s economies have caused much lower levels of poverty. But this progress has caused changes in societies, lifestyles and the kind of food people eat. It has also caused an increase in urban pollution.

Conditions such as cancer, stroke and dementia are predicted to cause health care costs in the area to increase sharply.

The WHO says late treatment of cancer causes 1.3 million deaths a year in Southeast Asia. The UN organization says two thirds of the 8.8 million people who die of cancer worldwide each year are in Africa and Asia.

The WHO says cancers, diabetes, heart diseases and lung diseases caused 40 million deaths in 2015.

Cancer seen as a major health care cost in Asia

Costs to treat these diseases are increasing even as they become more common. In 2015, the cost of cancer drugs rose by 11.5 percent to $107 billion worldwide. Experts believe that will rise to $150 billion by 2020. They say the increase is mostly because of the cost of new drugs.

In a recent report, The Boston Consulting Group, a research organization, said the “cancer burden in developing countries is reaching pandemic proportions.” It notes that 2.5 million people die of cancer in India every year. It says the number of people with cancer in India could increase 500 percent by the year 2025.

China reported four million new cancer cases in 2016. The report noted that costs to care for people with cancer in China may increase 400 percent by 2025, to $1.84 trillion.

Gregory Winter is a professor at Cambridge University. He leads a team of researchers examining different ways to treat diseases like cancer. He reports some progress, but says the cost of treatment is too high for most people to pay.

He says, “in general we will be struggling with cost problems. The cost of antibody treatment can be in the order of $15,000 - $75,000 per year and that’s a lot for anybody.”

Some reports in China note that people with cancer, and family members who care for them, must pay a lot of money for cancer-fighting drugs. The report says some families buy drugs in unofficial markets. However, it warns that some of the drugs in these markets may be ineffective or fake.

Agencies in China that approve drugs work slowly. Some drugs are not available in China for as long as 10 years after they have been approved in the United States.

Professor Winter says such delays also take place in India. He says some Asian countries should “take more risks during the drug approval process.”

Strokes and dementia linked to pollution

Asian countries also are facing increasing costs for caring for the growing number of people affected by strokes and dementia.

In 2012, the WHO reported that 35.6 million people worldwide are living with dementia. It predicted that would increase to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050.

The report said almost 60 percent of those with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries. That percentage is expected to increase.

The WHO wrote that the huge cost of care drives millions of families into poverty. It says dealing with the increases should be a “public health priority.”

Valery Feigin is a director of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at Auckland University of Technology. In 2016, his research showed a link between air pollution and strokes.

The researchers found that the harm air pollution causes to the lungs, heart and brain has been underestimated.

Vladimir Hachinski is an expert in stroke and dementia at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada. He said a growing amount of evidence links high levels of pollution with strokes and dementia.

Hachinski said, “This is a global problem because there are currents between the continents. There are currents in the atmosphere that carry air from one continent to another, and also within continents. So what happens in Beijing matters in Bangkok because the whole atmosphere is one in the biosphere.”

A recent report by the environmental group Greenpeace said air pollution causes up to 1.2 million deaths every year in India. That is almost as many deaths as tobacco use causes.

In China, high levels of smog affect cities during the winter. Research shows the smog causes more than a million premature deaths in China each year. It reduces life expectancy by two to five years.

Hachinski said Asia must find a way to deal with the pollution.

“At the rate we are going, we cannot afford more patients having strokes, more patients having dementia -- particularly in Asia, (which has) 61 percent of the world’s population,” he said. “In some countries like China, stroke is the leading cause of death and in Japan, of course, you have an aging population (and) you have high rates of stroke and dementia.”

Hachinski said if countries in the area do not deal with pollution, they might have a sharp increase in strokes and dementia.

I’m Phil Dierking.

And I’m Ashley Thompson.

Correspondent Ron Corben reported this story from Bangkok. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stroke – n. a serious medical condition where a blood vessel becomes blocked or breaks suddenly

dementia – n. a brain disease that causes the loss of the ability to communicate and think

burden – n. the number of cases of a disease

pandemic – n. a dangerous disease that spread across a large area

proportions – n. the relationship that exists between something and its size

antibody – n. a cell that fights infection

fake – adj. false, not true

biosphere – n. all living things

smog – n. thick pollution

premature – adj. appearing or taking place before expected