Doctor Ji Jiafu operates with his staff on a cancer patient in an operating theatre in the Beijing Cancer Hospital July 12, 2011. (David Gray/Courtesy Reuters)
Foreign Affairs just published its November/December issue, which includes my piece “Sick Man of Asia” (behind paywall). The title is reminiscent of “Sick Man of East Asia,” a metaphor used to allude to a China too weak to withstand the challenges posed by Western powers in the early 20th century. Ironically, as China is regaining its greatness, the disease burden is rapidly increasing, suggesting a sicker China in the post-Mao era. Here is some epidemiological data:
–The average life expectancy in China rose by only about 5 years between 1981 and 2009. In countries that had similar life expectancy levels in 1981 but had slower economic growth thereafter–Colombia, Malaysia, Mexico, and South Korea, for example–by 2009 life expectancy had increased by 7 to 14 years.
–While China is still battling a legion of infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases–including cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer–account for 85 percent of total deaths in the country, much higher than the global average of 60 percent.
–17.5 percent of the Chinese population, or more than 227 million people, suffer from some form of mental problem. This is one of the highest such rates in the world.
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