Called the “silent epidemic” by former Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) have topped the list of most common diseases in the Philippines over the past few years, responsible for 15 to 20 percent of reported deaths annually. In some years, these numbers are significantly higher. In 2012, the National Statistics Office reported that half of the country’s deaths stemmed from cardiovascular causes.
The most common of these ailments is coronary heart disease. Other heart ailments such as angina, atherosclerosis, hypertension and congenital heart disease have also been rampant among Filipinos.
Heart diseases can lead to other complications in vital organs, which makes the commonness of heart conditions alarming.
The Department of Health has estimated an increase in the number of kidney disease incidences from 10 to 15 percent annually starting in 2013. The trend coincides with increases in reported hypertension cases. Hypertensive patients are more likely to develop kidney complications.
Analysts trace the cause of these diseases to two main factors: growing urbanization and a general unawareness of public health issues. As cited in a 2015 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the quick development of high-paying industries and subsequent rapid economic growth have given Filipino consumers more purchasing power than ever before. Yet this growth has not always necessarily translated to a shift toward healthier options or an awareness of healthier food alternatives. Fast food consumption is higher than ever before, with 25 percent of Filipinos eating out at least once a week according to Nielsen.
The Filipino government acknowledges the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases among the citizenry and has put in place several strategies and plans to combat the increase in cases. The Health Department has begun its efforts to remove CVDs from the top of the list of the most common diseases in the Philippines by targeting the most basic of social groups, schools, as a starting point for training, research and propagating information regarding the possible consequences of unbalanced diets and unhealthy life choices. The agency hopes that the chances of Filipinos adopting high-risk behaviors and habits that lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases will be diminished by informing citizens in their early years.
Other Health Department actions include the continued development of a framework for an integrated chronic non-communicable disease (NCD) registry system, which enables patients to access government programs more easily, and training national hospitals for its operation. It has also established a national coalition on the prevention and control of NCDs. Its future plan of action involves the full implementation of the integrated NCD registry system and the development of service packages for patients, among many others.
– Bella Suansing