Two-thirds of deaths in Nepal caused by non-communicable diseases, new study says

April 12, 2019

Arjun Paudel, The Kathmandu Post, April 12, 2019

Findings by Nepal Burden of Disease show heart disease and respiratory diseases are the leading causes of deaths in males and females respectively
Two out of every three deaths in Nepal are caused by non-communicable diseases—heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infection and stroke—a new report published on Thursday by Nepal Health Research Council says.

According to a study on Nepal Burden of Disease conducted in 2017, changing age structure and life-style—increasing sedentary behaviour, tobacco and alcohol use, and unhealthy diets—are the main causes for the rise in non-communicable diseases.

“Non-communicable diseases are increasingly becoming a major public health issue. Notably, ischemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are significantly contributing to the burden of disease,” the report states.

The findings, based on the Global Burden of Disease study, have also identified high blood pressure, smoking, high blood glucose levels as main risk factors for deaths and disability in the country.

The report suggests ischemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease account for 16.4 percent and 9.8 percent of total deaths.

Ischemic heart disease, commonly known as coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease, is caused by the narrowing of the arteries, which leads to less blood and oxygen reaching the heart.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, often known by its abbreviation COPD, is not a single disease but an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases that cause limitations in lung airflow and is characterised by increasing breathlessness.

The study has found ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of death among men, and COPD as the major killer among women.

Dr Megnath Dhimal, a senior researcher at the research council, who was involved in the study, said that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the leading cause of death among female because 75 percent of households still use firewood for cooking and in the majority of homes, women spend long hours in the kitchen.

“Heart disease is the chief killer among males because of the use of tobacco, alcohol, exposure to heat and pollution and stress,” said Dhimal.

Lower respiratory infection, diarrheal disease and ischemic stroke are the third, fourth and fifth leading cause of deaths in males, while diarrheal disease, lower respiratory infection and Alzheimer’s disease are major causes of deaths in females.

The study shows that death rates have sharply declined over the past two decades with all ages and both sexes—decreasing from 1,110.28 deaths per 100,000 population in 1990 to 611.38 deaths per 100,000 populations in 2017.

According to the report, the life expectancy of Nepalis has also increased, meaning someone born in 2017 is expected to live 12.6 years longer than those born in 1990.

Life expectancy has increased from 59 years to 73.3 for females and from 58 to 69 for males between 1990 and 2017.

The study, however, says not all additional years will be healthy ones. Females are expected to live 62 years of healthy life, while males will live 60 years of healthy life. The discrepancy between life expectancy and life in full health has been attributed to years of healthy life lost due to ill health and disability.

The study was jointly carried out by the Nepal Health Research Council, Ministry of Health and Population, Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, and Department of International Development.

Dhimal said that the study could be an eye-opener for the concerned agencies to formulate national health policy and allocate resources accordingly.