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Attack on chronic diseases planned
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-02 01:08

Cutting back or quitting smoking, less sugar intake and reducing fat consumption, more physical exercise, biking or walking and other health topics are becoming part of a national strategy to fight chronic diseases in China.

Being drafted in Beijing now, a national strategy -- the first one of its kind for the country -- will try to set up a comprehensive framework for chronic diseases control, said officials.

While SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and avian influenza and other more "high-profile" diseases have captured the headlines, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are often referred to as "silent epidemics" that do more harm to the nation's health.

Indeed, NCDs, such as cancer, stroke, heart diseases, and diabetes, are responsible for nearly 80 per cent of reported deaths in China and globally.

China has entered into a very vital stage of chronic disease control as its economy and lifestyle have changed rapidly, which have contributed significantly to the country's NCD burdens, said Kong Lingzhi.

Kong, the director of the NCD division of the Ministry of Health, is leading a joint team to draft the new strategy now.

To support the work, a high-level group from the Geneva-based headquarters of World Health Organization has been invited by Kong's ministry to come to Beijing.

Led by Assistant Director General Catherine Le Gales-Camus, the team will work in China till the end of this week.

"This is the right time for China to address not only infectious diseases, but also to fight very effectively against chronic diseases," said Le Gales-Camus.

Each year there are about 10 million deaths in China. Among them, 7 million were related or caused by chronic diseases, said Le Gales-Camus.

Smoking, unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, alcohol intake and other bad by-products of improved living standard are causing NCDs to increase quickly.

For example, China has 100 million people suffering from hypertension, a number increasing by more than 3 million people annually over the past 20 years, Kong said.

More than 3 million diabetes sufferers were added to the country every year over the 10 years from 1980s to 1990s.

Moreover, NCDs, which usually require costly medical treatment, also bring increasing heavy social and economic burdens to China, she noted.

For instance, about 75 per cent of the country's more than 6 million stroke patients lose their ability to work.

Without an effective strategy, China's ability to control NCDs face severe difficulties, including overcoming the ignorance of authorities and residents, the lack of a prevention network and a monitoring system, and poor financial allocations, added Kong.

So the general idea of a strategy is to define the policies which will be comprehensive to reduce the burdens linked to NCDs, Le Gales-Camus told China Daily.

It means that governments at various levels will take more responsibility for public health education, provide better conditions for healthier lifestyles, strengthen disease supervision and ultimately reduce the death rate.

"The mission since the beginning of the week in China has been exciting because we have seen a very strong political commitment from Chinese senior officials, which is the first essential thing needed," Le Gales-Camus said Wednesday.

WHO will help China to complete the draft, centering the work in various fields such as providing technical support and introducing experience and even financial aid from outside world.

By the end of this week, a first document is expected to be drafted and ready for discussion.

The exact time of the draft's release is still unknown, officials said.

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