Southeast Asia faces an epidemic of chronic non-communicable diseases, now responsible for 60% of deaths in the region. The problem stems from environmental factors that promote tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and inadequate physical activity. Disadvantaged populations are the hardest hit, with death rates inversely proportional to a country's gross national income. Families shoulder the financial burden, but entire economies suffer as well. Although attempts to control non-communicable diseases are increasing, more needs to be done. Health-care systems need to be redesigned to deliver chronic care that is founded on existing primary health-care facilities, but supported by good referral systems. Surveillance of key modifiable risk factors is needed to monitor the magnitude of the problem and to study the effects of interventions. All branches of government and all sectors of society have to get involved in establishing environments that are conducive to healthy living. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is in a unique position to make a united stand against chronic non-communicable diseases in the region. Inaction will affect millions of lives-often, the lives of those who have the least.
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