Jan 11, 2022
By Caroline Clarke, CEO and Executive Vice President for Philips ASEAN Pacific

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease account for 71% of all deaths globally [1], and the risk of dying from an NCD is highest for people living in poverty. What I’ve experienced in my role in Asia-Pacific is that health systems, which were already unequal across regions, are now strained by the pandemic.


Many doctor visits are being postponed, even as NCDs like cardiovascular disease are on the rise across Southeast Asia. The need has grown urgent, especially for people in underserved communities. If we are to stem the tide of rising NCDs, I believe we must work together to strengthen health systems, address manageable risk factors, and ensure all people, no matter where they live, have access to quality diagnoses and treatments. 


Despite Southeast Asia being a highly fragmented region, one commonality holds true – countries across the region are all facing the same leading cause of mortality, NCDs. Currently, four major NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases – contribute to more than 80% of NCD-related premature deaths in the region [2],  and more than half of the world’s cardiovascular disease mortalities occur in Asia.


Community support to address the root cause of NCDs


In my role, I see the need for countries, regions, and the communities within, to work closer together to support our health institutions which are under high pressure and ensure that the system keeps running so that NCD diagnosis and treatments are able to continue without being compromised. 

Growing urbanization in Southeast Asia corresponds with the rise of NCDs. But the risk factors of NCDs are addressable. These include raised cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels, while common secondary causes include tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and harmful alcohol use [3]. The risk factors are largely man-made and reflect the manageable nature of this issue.

Unfortunately, the majority of low- and middle-income countries find it challenging to design and implement comprehensive programs to detect NCDs early on [4].

In Michael Bloomberg’s Annual Letter of Philanthropy, he highlights that despite causing 67% of deaths, NCDs receive only 1% of global health funding. He explains that the proliferation of NCDs traces patterns of inequality in our world, including unequal access to education, healthy foods, safe places to exercise, and governments who put protective policies into action [5].

If we are to stem the tide of rising NCDs, I believe we must work together to strengthen health systems, address manageable risk factors, and ensure all people, no matter where they live, have access to quality diagnoses and treatments

Reversing this gap in funding will require awareness campaigns, supporting more comprehensive and accurate data-gathering, and evaluating program interventions for performance – all of which can only be accomplished through closer partnerships with experts in the field.

Driving access to care through Philips Foundation 

The high level of premature mortality from NCDs (before 70 years of age) in several low- and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia is especially worrying because it is preventable.


At Philips Asia-Pacific, we have been increasingly working with Philips Foundation to address these issues and reduce growing healthcare inequality. By leveraging Philips’ expertise in innovative healthcare technology and solutions, we can identify and address healthcare access needs within the region while striving for sustainable impact.


In Singapore, Philips Foundation partnered with the Singapore Heart Foundation to improve cardiac incident outcomes in communities. Besides supporting community care infrastructure with the funding of a Heart Wellness Centre in a district with a large population of elderly residents, the partnership will also see more locales equipped with AED access and provide CPR training to the community. This partnership is projected to provide access to quality care, reduce cardiac incidences in the community, and lower the risk of hospital readmission for individuals by 25%.


In Indonesia, Philips Foundation worked with underserved communities via Lovepink Indonesia, a non-profit awareness organization, and Docquity, Southeast Asia’s largest professional network of doctors, to increase breast cancer awareness by layman education and social activations. Given that breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Southeast Asia, the program also provided 1,000 lower-income women with free breast cancer screening in multiple cities during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In pressing times, promoting healthy living to all is ever more important

I firmly believe that a healthy lifestyle remains one of the essential factors in the prevention of NCDs – an individual-level intervention that is too often overlooked. But interventions should also be educational and impart skills to show people how to reduce their likelihood of falling ill and live a better quality of life.


It is less about finding a ‘quick fix’ and more about a sustainable approach that equips populations with the knowledge and facilities to make better, long-term lifestyle changes. Risk education will pave the way for early assessment and diagnosis, which are essential to limit the consequences and increase the chances of recovery.


A good example of this in action is a different project in Indonesia, in which we, together with Philips Foundation, engaged with Indonesia Heart Foundation to train high school students on basic first aid skills and to improve knowledge on healthier eating habits. A project that is dear to my heart, because you can never start too early developing habits that will make you healthier, more vital, and happier for the rest of your life.

In the end, the goal of universal health coverage – whereby all people have access to the health education and services they need, wherever and whenever they need them – must be supported by a foundation of strong population health management to be successful. Everyone deserves access to affordable and quality care, and guidance on how to take care of themselves. Only when private and public entities work together to address NCDs in the community, will they be able to reduce the overall health burden and improve health equity.

It is less about finding a ‘quick fix’ and more about a sustainable approach that equips populations with the knowledge and facilities to make better, long-term lifestyle changes

If we invest together, 2022 can be a year when health systems become ever more inclusive – so that no one is left behind, regardless of the crisis.





[1] World Health Organization (2021). Non-communicable diseases 

[2] Risk Management Healthcare Policy (2020). Moving towards optimized non-communicable disease management in the ASEAN region

[3] JAC: Asia (2021). Epidemiological features of cardiovascular disease in Asia

[4] World Economic Forum (2018). How we can work together in the fight against NCDs

[5] Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2017). Michael Bloomberg uses burden of disease data to focus attention on NCDs 


For further information, contact


Yannick Eshuijs

Philips Foundation

Tel.: +31 6 1852 6633

E-mail: yannick.eshuijs@philips.com

LinkedIn Profile

About Caroline Clarke
Caroline Clarke is CEO and Executive Vice President for Philips in ASEAN Pacific. She is responsible for the overall strategy, business and management of Philips in 14 countries across the region.

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