Though Cambodia’s life expectancy and standard of living have both shown incremental growth over recent years, the rate at which people are developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is still uncomfortably high. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs are responsible for a staggering 64% of all deaths in the Kingdom.
The WHO attributes this high percentage to avoidable lifestyle factors such as unhealthy diet, the use of tobacco, reduced physical activity and harmful levels of alcohol consumption, particularly by men.
Cambodia’s ageing population and the increasing number of people moving from the countryside to the cities are also factors, the WHO says, due in part to Cambodia’s rapid speed of development.
Two NCDs which are causing growing concern are kidney and pancreatic diseases, with the evidence for the former providing particularly stark reading.
A 2015 study performed by a Phnom Penh medical team examined the number of people with symptoms of kidney disease, such as traces of blood or protein in their urine.
Out of 1,000 samples taken–from people who had shown no prior history of the disease—more than half had warning signs or abnormalities in their results. WHO data also shows that last year, there were nearly 2,500 deaths attributed to kidney disease alone.
Two of the leading causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, which have both been shown to be increasing in the Kingdom and are projected to be even more prevalent in future.
High blood pressure, for example, affected about 19 per cent of Cambodia’s population in the year 2000, according to the WHO. By 2025, it is expected to rise to about 26 per cent - roughly one in four people and well above global targets.
The rate of diabetes has also shown consistent growth over the past 30 - 40 years, from around 2.5 per cent of the population in 1980 to about six per cent as of 2016, a staggering 900,000 people. Though this is relatively low compared to the world’s worst hit countries, its continued rise is still a cause for concern for many health professionals in Cambodia.
One of the purported causative agents of the rise in diabetes is Cambodia’s booming development, according to the WHO. An increasing number of people are moving to live in urban areas where lifestyles are more sedentary due to modern transport and office-based jobs. Working hours are long and there’s also easy access to cheap, unhealthy convenience food.
As a result, the 2010 WHO STEPs Survey found the prevalence of diabetes was 2.4 times higher in urban than in rural populations, and it is these people who are at risk of later complications with kidney and pancreatic diseases.
One of the hardest challenges people face when being diagnosed with kidney disease is the massive cost of ongoing treatment.
The normal treatment for kidney failure is regular sessions on a dialysis machine, which filters impurities from a person’s blood and then pumps it back into the body - a function the kidneys can no longer do. This treatment must be performed several times each week, and the high ongoing cost is infamous in Cambodia for financially crippling some afflicted families, particularly if they don’t have the appropriate financial support in place.
Dialysis is also not a cure, so if a family member develops kidney disease, they will require dialysis treatment for the rest of their life, with the potential bill running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The only cure is a transplant, but the availability of specialist kidney doctors (known as nephrologists) in Cambodia is limited, and international treatment is costly, another complication for many with the disease.
One of the best treatments is prevention, and there are several steps one can take to greatly improve the odds of not developing kidney disease in the first place, according to the UK’s National Health Service website. Adopting lifestyle choices such as treating underlying conditions like diabetes, maintaining a healthy balanced diet and cutting down on alcohol are all linked with a reduced risk of developing both kidney and pancreas disease.
Quitting smoking is also mentioned as one of the best preventative treatments, along with partaking in regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight and normal blood pressure.
On top of a healthy lifestyle, many people find great comfort in taking out a life insurance solution for peace of mind if anything does happen in future.
AIA Samrab Chivit, Cambodia’s first-ever life insurance solution to cover the treatment of critical illness, has now become the most extensive protection as now it also covers kidney and pancreas diseases as well as some major organ transplantation, for both existing and new customers at no extra cost.
AIA Cambodia’s CEO Richard Bates said that it was a positive step forward in offering the country’s most comprehensive life insurance product.
“In celebration of AIA’s 100th anniversary, AIA is proud to offer an upgrade on AIA Samrab Chivit, which now becomes Cambodia’s most comprehensive critical illness coverage.
This upgrade ensures people will have the necessary funds in place to treat life-threatening critical illnesses, making sure families aren’t put under unnecessary financial strain if a member falls sick while solidifying our commitment to helping Cambodians live healthier, longer, better lives,” he said.