Infectious Diseases Rising in Southeast and South Asia

It is projected that infectious diseases in South and Southeast Asia will increase in the future, as rapid economic growth has led to rising air travel and urbanization — with growing people-to-people and people-to-animal interactions. SARS, bird flu and swine flu are some of the new diseases that have emerged from Asia over the past decade. However, more “traditional” infectious diseases have also become increasingly common.

In Malaysia, dengue fever is a growing problem. The mortality rate in 2013 was more than double the rate in 2012. The first three weeks of January 2014 saw more than double the number of deaths a year earlier. Malaysia has also seen a rise in the number of tuberculosis (TB) cases, growing 25% between 2007 and 2012. One Malaysian Health Ministry official said that foreigners from countries with a high incidence of TB — “TB migration” — were one of the key causes of the growth of the disease.

In 2013, the Philippines saw a widespread outbreak of measles that caused the deaths of almost 30 children. While the number of cases dropped significantly from 2003 to 2006, they have been slowly rising since. Carried by travelers to the Philippines, the disease has spread to Canada, the UK and Taiwan. The Philippines also saw a 16% year-on-year increase of dengue fever cases in the first half of 2013. The Department of Health (DOH) has been administering measles and polio vaccines to millions of children. To coordinate its response to dengue, measles and acute water diarrhea, the DOH is working with the Philippine Air Force and Navy.

The number of dengue cases in Indonesia rose almost 15% year-on-year during the first half of 2013. Singapore also had a record year for dengue fever in 2013, an increase of more than 35% over the previous record epidemic year, 2005.