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Speeches & Transcripts

Non-Communicable Diseases in Sri Lanka

February 21, 2011

Diariétou Gaye

As Prepared for Delivery

Opening Remarks - Sri Lanka Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) Report

February 21, 2011

At the Hotel Taj Samudra in Colombo

Diariétou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Distinguished Guests, Colleagues and Friends,

It is a real pleasure for me to be here today before you to participate to the launch of an important report for Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Non-Communicable diseases.

Why is it important?

We all have witnessed the important changes that have taken place in Sri Lanka’s economy: sustained GDP growth, good macroeconomic management and in addition steady progress in social indicators. With these successes come a new set of challenges some of them very insidious; taking decades to materialize and therefore not felt dramatically by the population and the policy makers during the transition.

Let me address these. The report clearly indicates that Sri Lanka is challenged by two transitions. An aging population, also known as the demographic transition and an epidemiological transition, that is a shift of disease burden from infectious to non-communicable diseases. Some of these words may seem quite scientific for non-health specialist (like myself), but what they mean in simple words is that: people leave longer due to the progress in health services and because of these progress the type illnesses the medical system is facing are different and more of a lifelong type and ask for more expensive treatments.

These kinds of transition have happened in every country as they move to middle and high income status. In the case of Sri Lanka though, both transitions are underway and are happening at a very fast pace. This will for sure challenge the country’s aspirations to strengthen its middle income status as it is facing this double burden at a much lower level of national income than most of the high income countries that also face these transitions.

This is, as mentioned earlier, the result of the remarkable success story of Sri Lanka. You have been achieving health status gains, such as reduction in fertility, control of communicable diseases and increased life expectancy and you have done all this at a relatively low cost. While congratulating you on these achievements, there still seems to remain some unfinished business in area such as malnutrition and the new challenges posed by non communicable diseases. But let us be clear, these transitions offer opportunities as well as challenges. If managed well, they can facilitate Sri Lanka’s economic growth and development. The main opportunities are: reaping the demographic dividend before it is too late, that is investing more in developing a productive workforce and modernizing the health sector to respond to NCDs.

There are many areas covered in the report that are thought provoking, such as the difference in life expectancy between women and men or the rapid pace of the demographic transition. I am sure that the rich debate that will follow the presentation of the report later today will be quite interesting. While leaving you to deliberate on these questions, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the many players involved in Sri Lanka’s health sector development. This report could not have been produced without the help and strong engagement of the Ministries of Health, Finance and National Planning.

Let me also thank my colleagues Michael, Sundar and Kumari for their work and Julie for her discrete supervision.

Let me conclude by saying that Sri Lanka has faced many difficult challenges and has come out always as a winner. I hope this will also materialize in cricket this year. In any case, this meeting marks the beginning of a long journey where our common knowledge and experience will help the decision makers explore policy options and much needed actions to prevent and control NCDs in Sri Lanka.

Thank you.