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Finding real wealth in health industry(2)

2014-02-17 10:17 China Daily Web Editor: qindexing

NCDs such as diabetes, mental health problems and antimicrobial resistance (or drug resistance) are becoming more common in everyday life in Asia, driven by the changing lifestyle patterns and widespread urbanization.

According to WISH, deaths from communicable diseases are dramatically decreasing globally, while deaths from NCDs are projected to increase. The number of global NCD-related deaths is estimated to surge from 28.1 million per year in 1990 to around 49.7 million per year in 2020.

In Southeast Asia alone, more than 7.9 million people die from NCDs every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The number is projected to increase by 21 percent over the next decade.

To make the situation worse, 34 percent of NCD-related deaths in the region occur before the age of 60, compared with 23 percent in the rest of the world.

Cardiovascular diseases alone account for a quarter of all deaths, followed by chronic respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes.

A report published by Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice shows that China and India now have the largest diabetic populations in the world, comprising around 51 million and 43 million people respectively.

Diabetes prevalence in Asia is expected to rise rapidly by 2030, with the highest prevalence ratio in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and South Korea.

According to the WISH estimates, 44 percent of all counterfeit antibiotics in the world are distributed in Southeast Asia, compared with 30 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 9 percent in the West.

Two-thirds of hospitalized patients in China receive antibiotics, when the rate of usage in other countries is 30 percent.

In terms of mental illness ratio, about 17 percent of Chinese people are suffering from mild or severe problems, a figure much higher than the 10 percent world average ratio.

In the medical equipment market, Chinese, Indian and South Korean manufacturers are streets ahead of their competitors.

Although they make products of lower quality than the multinationals, they are more affordable and meet the basic needs of the average healthcare provider, according to a recent report by healthcare market research consultancy Clearstate.

Governments in Asia have actively joined the movements in the industry to build better healthcare systems.

Accountable care, a buzzword in the healthcare sector which refers to delivering integrated healthcare based on patients' real need to improve quality and cut costs, has also proved to be successful in some parts of Asia, the WISH meeting showcased.

Singapore's Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) is a good example. From 2008, the Singaporean government set the AIC system to deal with escalating healthcare demands of the aging population.

By categorizing different patient groups, setting community medical homes to cover relevant patients and transiting patients from hospitals into the appropriate long-term community-care program, it has reduced a patient's chance by more than 40 percent of being re-admitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge, saving more than $11 million a year on the cost of hospital re-admissions.

"A key issue is leadership — to shake up the system," says Jason Cheah, chief executive of the AIC.

The demand to cut costs has brought more healthcare innovations from the supply side to the demand side, said Simon Stevens, president of the global health division at UnitedHealth Group.

Stevens added that fundamental healthcare innovations in the next decade will come from outside the healthcare sector, such as technology developments and inter-sector cooperation.

Many Asian countries have tried to coordinate different government departments to deal with healthcare challenges. For example, in the Sultanate of Oman, the government has developed a collaborative mechanism that enables the healthcare sector to work with the education sector and food industry in dealing with the growing obesity rate in children.

The common use of smartphones also provides opportunities from the new technology, such as phone applications to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar and nutrition condition, in addition to data collecting and analysis that can lead to more efficient healthcare solutions based on daily behavior.

Given the huge population in Asia and shortage of medical infrastructure, the latest innovations are especially promising.

"The healthcare environment has changed from five years ago. The changing environment has changed the way technology leaders invest," says John Dineen, president and CEO of GE Healthcare. The company is now investing to improve quality, efficiency and access at the same time.

For example, GE Healthcare developed Vscan, a pocket-sized ultrasound scanner, that helps assist local health workers to reduce the maternal mortality rate in the hinterland of Indonesia where hospitals cannot afford expensive medical equipment.

He says the settings of healthcare have changed transitioning from hospitals to clinics, to home, to the field.

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