As people living in Asian countries get richer and lead to sedimentary and unhealthy lifestyles, cancer is predicted to increases. However, countries such as Australia, Malaysia and South-Korea are well prepared to battle cancer while countries such as India and the Philippines are ill-prepared.
According to an index prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Australia, Malaysia and South Korea are most prepared to meet the burden of more cancer cases. Meanwhile, India, the Philippines and Vietnam are ill-prepared to face such a challenge.
The EIU has warned of a mini-tsunami of cancer cases as the coronavirus subsides and patients feel safe to visit hospitals. Out of fear of catching the coronavirus, cancer patients have avoided getting treatments done at hospitals.
Even hospitals put cancer treatment on the back burner as a top priority was given to curing COVID-19 cases. In the Philippines, for instance, cancer patients who were no longer able to attend advanced medical facilities were simply discharged into the wider community without any continuity of care.
The index measured the preparedness of 10 Asia-Pacific countries using 45 indicators and created a scorecard for each country, with 100 being most prepared.
Australia led the ranking with a score of 92.4, followed by South Korea with 83.4, and Malaysia with 80.3. All three have rigorous vaccination programs, including for hepatitis B which is linked to liver cancer, and HPV which can cause cervical cancer.
These countries tend to be aggressive in gathering information about individual cases at a national level so policymakers can understand the scale of the problem and design effective responses.
The rankings indicate that the three countries mentioned above have managed to keep the mortality rate down. This indicates that they are either detecting cancers at an early stage and/or are able to treat their patients effectively. Cancers that are more advanced are difficult to cure.
Unhealthy Habits a Cause of Concern
Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, are all rapidly growing economies whose populations have developed bad habits such as smoking. For example, nearly 40% of Indonesians aged 15 and older smoke.
Similarly, obesity amongst children in Thailand and Indonesia, countries where medical services are harder to access, could become a problem in the near future.
The EIU suggests that governments could support low-income groups by subsidizing health care costs and that patients should not have to pay more than 20% of their medical bills. 62.4% of medical expenses are still paid by patients in India, 53% in the Philippines, 45.3% in Vietnam and 36.1% in China.
Presently, governments Government health care expenditure is also low in these countries, at just 3.4% of total expenditure in New Delhi, 7.1% in the Manila, 9.1% in Beijing and 9.5% in Hanoi.
In terms of service affordability, accessibility to cancer treatments such as radiotherapy and cancer research, Japan tops the list. Tokyo has prioritized tackling the disease ever since it became the leading cause of deaths from 1981.
However, Japan has a poor track record for data collection, an issue that also became clear during the coronavirus crisis and is slow in introducing vaccination programs. The EIU also noted “a concerning prevalence of modifiable risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption in Japan,” and urged the government to promote healthier lifestyles.
Despite having advance medical facilities and superior services, cancer patients in Japan have a higher mortality rate than patients in Australia and South Korea.
Cancers are caused by damage to genes and such genetic errors tend to increase with age, obesity and bad habits, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and a lack of exercise. Half of the cancer patients in the world currently live in Asia. By 2030, cancer cases are expected to rise by 35% in the region, even as its population is expected to grow just 9%.