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Why southeast Asia may hold the answer to a worldwide health problem

Date:14 December 2018
Hanna Fromell is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen
Hanna Fromell is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen

How to best prevent and treat diseases at a societal level? When considering this question, your mind might initially jump to tactics like quarantine, hygiene and the provision of medicine. But what if the diseases in question do not pass from person to person at all?

Diabetes and hypertension are the cause of three quarters of deaths in Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. A team of Groningen researchers is part of an international group awarded €4 million in European Union funding to investigate how these lifestyle-related diseases can be tackled most effectively by the local health systems. Scaling-up NCD Interventions in South-East Asia, or SUNI-SEA, brings together NGOs, ministries of health, research organisation and community groups across Southeast Asia.

“The idea is to reinforce the governments’ commitment to doing this, and to have a positive effect on the health outcomes of the people living in these countries,” explained Hanna Fromell, a researcher at the Faculty of Economics and Business who will evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the scaling-up of the different NCD interventions.

“We also hope to learn from the experience of upscaling these interventions to provide new guidelines and improve existing ones on what works.”

As it turns out, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar have developed innovative small-scale programmes to prevent and treat these conditions. Testing which ones are most effective and whether they can be scaled up to national level may reveal insights into how to tackle diseases which are an increasing problem all over the world as obesity and inactivity rates increase.

“One thing that they're doing is that they are moving the prevention of these diseases from hospitals to primary health facilities. Prevention and care is also brought to the community-level, and into people’s homes,” Fromell explained.

“One example would be community groups where elderly people can get together and get basic knowledge and good practices to keep a healthy lifestyle, and what signs to look for.”

Increasing public knowledge is key, as currently people suffering from diabetes and hypertension rarely get treatment at the early stages, leaving the diseases to progress to a worse stage.

The project is a great example of the value of interdisciplinary cooperation. It brings together health experts with policymakers and economists, each with a different piece of expertise to add. On the economic side of things, the key question is to analyse the most cost effective kind of treatment programme.

“We hope to investigate to what extent these experience can be generalised into a worldwide scheme that is applicable to other countries,” Fromell said.

“Ultimately, we want to create new guidelines on a world wide scale for the prevention and management of non communicable diseases.”

For more information about the project see here.