China in crisis as Xi warned of health emergency from 'hidden epidemics’

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Experts have raised the alarm over a frenzy of ‘hidden epidemics’ in China which are threatening to kill tens of millions of people in the country in the coming decades unless more attention is given to its health sector. While the nation may have some of the strictest Covid laws still in place following the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, health experts have warned that China is doing far less to limit the rise of non-communicable diseases.

Researchers say that after the country’s population rose rapidly after opening its economy up to the rest of the world in the 1980s, triggering a long period of rapid economic growth, millions of people’s lifestyles changed as more and more people moved into newly industrialised cities. 

While this raised the standard of living for millions of citizens who were lifted out of poverty, it has also seen the prevalence of “western” diseases build up, which now after decades of staggering growth are threatening to put pressure on the nation, the Guardian reports.

For instance, cases of diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease have all soared. Back in 2016, Yanping Li, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School led a study warning that China faced an epidemic of heart diseases and stroke. 

He said: “Our estimates suggest that the continued rise in high blood pressure, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, increasing obesity, and worsening dietary trends will add millions of new cases of heart attacks and stroke over the next two decades.”

Six years on, and the researchers’ predictions look likely to come true. Wang Feng, professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, told the Guardian: “These are hidden epidemics and they are enduring epidemics. 

“You have an explosion in a new diet and nutritional intake in a short time period. Combined with unforeseen, unprecedented ageing, it’s going to be one of the greatest challenges China faces – not just for individual families but it poses a political challenge to leadership.

“This issue could really explode out of control. This is not something that is going to go away.”

And there have been many studies which point to the vast increase in these diseases which are linked to the kinds of activities that millions of Chinese people now undertake as part of the new lifestyle associated with the economic and demographic changes experienced in the country. 

In fact, it is thought that up to 4 million deaths each year in China are a result of cardiovascular diseases. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that diabetes is an “explosive” in the nation in which 110 million people are affected. That number is also expected to soar to 150 million by 2050. 

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In fact, it is thought that up to 4 million deaths each year in China are a result of cardiovascular diseases. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that diabetes is an “explosive” in the nation in which 110 million people are affected. That number is also expected to soar to 150 million by 2050. 

And this comes after the Covid pandemic exposed some of the gaping holes in China’s health care system, which is already under pressure. This was highlighted in a report entitled “COVID-19 and healthcare system in China: challenges and progression for a sustainable future” published in the BMJ, part of the Springer Nature journal.

The researchers wrote: “The outbreak exposed the weak capacity of community hospitals, including outdated equipment, low competency of doctors, as well as the limited ability for virus testing and monitoring. Most patients refused to go to even nearby community hospitals.

“The poor state of community hospitals also caused problems in the cities. Public distrust in the competence of community physicians and the quality of diagnostic facilities prompted many patients to instead visit large hospitals for diagnosis and treatment.”

This could be a worry as more and more people will inevitably need to use the services which are already under pressure, despite Covid cases having since gone down. 

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Another worry is while China has pumped ample funds into infrastructure over recent years, investment in health care has not received the same amount of attention. 

According to the WHO, around half of China’s doctors do not have a bachelor’s degree, while in villages and small towns, only 10-15 percent have one. Meanwhile, there is also a reported shortage of nurses, with its average far lower compared to other rich countries (there is one nurse for every doctor while the average is thee). 

However, China has driven most of its investment in health care into big hospitals in cities, and as the “hidden epidemic” has been attributed to population growth in the nation’s urban metropolises, the move could pay off. 

Meanwhile, China’s economy has also been battered following severe drought over the summer, as well as the Covid-19 restrictions which Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said have made the country “closed” and “distinctively different”, warning the nation could face an exodus of companies. 

This may further hinder investment in the Chinese healthcare system which was already brought to its knees in several rural areas amid the pandemic. 



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