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Open Access Opinion

China’s biggest, most neglected health challenge: non-communicable diseases

Shenglan Tang1, John Ehiri2 and Qian Long3*

Author Affiliations

1 Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

2 Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

3 School of Public Health and Management, Chongqing Medical University, Chongqing, PR China

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Infectious Diseases of Poverty 2013, 2:7  doi:10.1186/2049-9957-2-7

Published: 5 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Over the past two decades, international health policies focusing on the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and those diseases that address maternal and child health problems, among others, have skewed disease control priorities in China and other Asian countries. Although these are important health problems, an epidemic of chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in China has accounted for a much greater burden of disease due to the ongoing rapid socioeconomic and demographic transition.

Discussion

Although NCDs currently account for more than 80% of the overall disease burden in China, they remain very low on the nation’s disease control priorities, attracting marginal investment from central and local governments. This leaves the majority of patients with chronic conditions without effective treatment. International organizations and national governments have recognized the devastating social and economic consequences caused by NCDs in low- and middle-income countries, including China. Yet, few donor-funded projects that address NCDs have been implemented in these countries over the past decade. Due to a lack of strong support from international organizations and national governments for fighting against NCDs, affected persons in China, especially the poor and those who live in rural and less developed regions, continue to have limited access to the needed care. Costs associated with frequent health facility visits and regular treatment have become a major factor in medical impoverishment in China. This article argues that although China's ongoing health system reform would provide a unique opportunity to tackle current public health problems, it may not be sufficient to address the emerging threat of NCDs unless targeted steps are taken to assure that adequate financial and human resources are mapped for effective control and management of NCDs in the country.

Summary

The Chinese government needs to develop a domestically-driven and evidence-based disease control policy and funding priorities that respond appropriately to the country’s current epidemiological transition, and rapid sociodemographic and lifestyle changes.

Keywords:
Non-communicable diseases; Infectious diseases; Evidence-based public health interventions; Health system reform; China