JAKARTA — The sight of commuters, their faces hidden behind masks while perched on motorcycle taxis, is common across Asia. The bikes weave through gridlock in cities like Jakarta and Bangkok, getting the passengers to work on time. But the masks, sometimes worn by both driver and passenger, hint that the air they breathe might not be the cleanest. Judging from World Health Organization figures released on Wednesday, covering 4,300 cities across 108 countries, the commuters have the right idea. Of an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide per year from air pollution, just over two-thirds occur in Asia, which is home to slightly less than 60% of the global population. Breaking the numbers down, the 10 countries in the WHO’s “South-east Asia” region account for about a quarter of the world’s population but suffer around 2.4 million, or 34%, of all air pollution deaths.
JAKARTA — As concerns grow about rising obesity in Southeast Asia, Indonesia will introduce legislation next year aimed at reducing the content of sugar, salt and fat in food. “We want to push our industry to make it low sugar, low salt, low fat,” Nina Moeloek, Indonesia’s health minister, told the Nikkei Asian Review. “Next year the Ministry of Industry will make regulations for sugar, salt and fat,” she added. In August Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong railed against sugar-laden drinks in a televized speech. Lee’s tirade prompted seven beverage makers, including Coca-Cola, to commit to “a maximum sugar content of 12% for all of their drinks sold in Singapore by 2020,” according to the health ministry of Singapore, where an estimated one in nine people are diabetic. Sugar taxes are also being considered in Singapore and will be implemented in Western countries such as France, Ireland and possibly the U.K.
JAKARTA — The tea industry has watched in envy as coffee’s cachet has skyrocketed across Asia, and now it wants a piece of the action. But it faces a difficult challenge: How to convince people that something they’ve been quaffing like water all their lives can be a premium product. Eliawati Erly, vice president of David Roy Indonesia, the local distributor for Sri Lankan brand Dilmah Tea, recognizes that developing a culture of cool around tea won’t be easy. “People are accustomed to having tea and teh botol (bottled tea drinks sold in shops) since they are young,” she said. Erly and others in the tea industry are well-aware of how coffee companies have benefited from promoting the ethical sourcing of beans and the distinct qualities of single-origin roasts from specific regions.
SINGAPORE — As Southeast Asia struggles with the rise of modern illnesses that have blighted Western societies such as heart disease and diabetes, a combination of government appeals and changing lifestyle choices suggests a growing awareness of the causes of such conditions. In an Aug. 20 national day speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore recommended that citizens cut back on sugar consumption — flagging-up the soft drinks that are popular among thirsty pedestrians cooling down after a walk in the city-state’s often stifling heat. “Just one can of soft drink can contain eight cubes of sugar,” Lee said. “That’s more than you need for one whole day.”=
SINGAPORE — More than 300 people have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in Singapore this year, while the figure for Thailand has reached 200. Though the numbers of Zika cases in other Asian countries remain in the single digits, outbreaks in these two trade and tourism hubs could take a heavy economic toll. Such impacts are already being felt in Latin America. The spread of Zika there has resulted in around 1,800 cases of microcephaly, and the World Bank estimates that Zika could result in losses of around $3.5 billion to Latin American economies, or 1% of gross domestic product in tourism-dependent ones. In Asia, the main impact is likely to be felt in Singapore, which will host a Formula One Grand Prix race from Sept. 16-18. The event attracts not only regional motor sports fans but also corporate guests attending business meetings during the race week. The current Zika outbreak is the first ever in the city-state. Though it has not sparked any panic yet, the rapid spread of infection has reminded many residents of the SARS crisis of 2003, which saw economic activity contract 4.2% in the second quarter of that year. China, Singapore’s biggest source of tourists, issued an alert on Sept. 7 urging visitors to Zika-affected countries to take precautions against mosquito bites.
SINGAPORE – With “Western-style” ailments such as obesity and diabetes on the increase in Asia, health-related businesses are ramping up their efforts to keep those diseases at bay. Asia’s spending on health care has been soaring. By 2017, the region’s expenditure will reach $2.1 trillion, 24% of the global total, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit. “As incomes rise, education levels also improve, creating much greater awareness of health issues,” the report said. But as Asians earn more, they are becoming not only better educated but also more susceptible to so-called “lifestyle” diseases — afflictions the World Health Organization classes as “noncommunicable” and “chronic.” Chronic maladies such as heart disease and diabetes are the No. 1 killers in Southeast Asia, accounting for 62% of all deaths, according to the WHO. Growing Asian affluence and the spread of fast-food chains have led to increasingly unhealthy eating habits, as foods high in fat, salt and sugar are consumed in greater amounts. This, in turn, has caused a spike in conditions previously more common in Western countries. Malaysia-based IHH Healthcare is among the hospital operators responding to the region’s growing medical needs. “Rapid growth, rapid rise in affluence and the development of the middle income group, these are all very favorable factors for the health care industry,” said Tan See Leng, IHH’s managing director and CEO, speaking at the FT-Nikkei Asia300 Forum in Hong Kong on April 25.
SINGAPORE – After enduring two terms in prison in military-ruled Myanmar, Bo Kyi might have been forgiven for thinking he had overcome the worst life could throw at him. But in February, a decade and a half after he was released from jail, his doctor gave him some grim news: a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Not for the first time, the outspoken activist faced some life-changing decisions, perhaps the most significant since the day nearly three decades ago when he joined thousands of other students protesting against army rule in what was then Burma. “I changed my lifestyle since I found out,” Bo Kyi said, explaining that he has cut out beer, cigarettes and sugary food. He said the grinding neglect typical of life as a political prisoner in Myanmar did not cause his diabetes. But with poor hygiene and malnutrition common in Myanmar jails, the best Bo Kyi could say was that he is “not sure” how seven years behind bars has affected his health. The World Health Organization lists diabetes as one of the four main types of noncommunicable diseases, alongside cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and cancers. Worldwide, there were 415 million adults living with diabetes in 2015, according to the latest estimates published by the International Diabetes Federation. The IDF expects that number to hit 642 million by 2040.
THAY CHAUNG – Anuar Begum’s baby boy is just 4 days old and hasn’t been named yet, but the 22-year-old first-time mother is already thinking four weeks ahead. That’s when heavy rain and storms will begin to blow in from the Bay of Bengal into Rakhine State, bringing the threat of water-borne diseases for the almost 140,000 Rohingya, who, like Anuar Begum, live in camps in this bedeviled region in western Myanmar. “We are worried about the baby. We are IDPs [internally displaced persons] and there is no doctor in our camp,” she said, perched on the edge of the same rusty-framed bed where she gave birth 4 days back, inside a government clinic outside Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine State.
VIENTIANE — Every Wednesday, Sengphachan Phommaxay wakes at 4 a.m. and heads across town to the That Luang market in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There she meets a truckload of papaya, onions and pumpkins dispatched that morning from her family’s 32 acre farm, which sits 20 miles outside Vientiane in green, sun-dappled countryside close to the Mekong River. As the sun comes up and orange-clad monks plod barefoot around the funereal Vientiane streets seeking alms, the 23-year-old business student gets in some hands-on practice for life after graduation — selling the family’s produce at Vientiane’s main organic market. “10,000 kip for one kilo,” or $1.25 for just over two pounds, says Ms. Sengphachan, a student at the Lao American College, when asked how much the papaya costs.
KOLKATA/CALCUTTA — Multinational businesses such as IBM and Vodafone have offices nearby, a five-star Marriott hotel is going up on the main airport road — all within walking distance of pricey pastel apartment blocks that look like Legoland in the hazy sun-baked distance. Half-built condos, still encased in scaffolding, are shooting up all overin eastern Kolkata and will be serviced by a new metro line linked to the airport. But a mile or so away from the Marriott site is Kolkata dhapa, or rubbish dump, a vast, decades-old hill of plastic, rubber, tin and old clothes, perhaps 10-12 acres in area and 60ft-70ft high.