Diseases are not exactly the first thing that come to mind when thinking about Asians as a whole; however, Asians and Asian Americans should reconsider this notion once they realize how prevalent the following health problems are within their race. This piece also appeared in the Spring 2010 issue.
By Guramrit Khalsa
Illustration By Kerff Samuel Petit-Frere
The diabetes epidemic has been nicknamed the “silent killer” with over 89 million Asians affected. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), four out of five of the highest populations of diabetes in the world exist in Asian countries: India, China, Pakistan and Japan.
Diabetes consist of two main varieties: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1, formally known as juvenile diabetes, is found primarily in children and young adults. With this form of diabetes, the body is unable to produce an adequate amount of insulin — a hormone produced by the pancreas. Treatment usually includes injecting insulin twice a day depending on the amount of glucose found in the blood.
Type 2, however, is the most common variety of diabetes. Roughly 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases are Type 2. With this variety of diabetes, an individual’s body is unable to produce enough insulin or the body rejects it. According to the American Diabetes Association, “Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.”
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death around the world. CVD categorizes a group of other diseases, such as coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, rheumatic heart disease and other heart and vein-related problems. The most common symptoms associated with CVD are heart attacks and strokes. Strokes are the primary cause of death in Asians because of uncontrolled high blood pressure and diets high in saturated fat.
The WHO says that by 2030, the Southeast Asia region will have the largest increase in deaths from cardiovascular diseases.
The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a chronic infection that causes liver inflammation. The liver becomes infected and disrupts proper function of the rest of the body.
According to the Asian Liver Center of Stanford University, 78 percent of individuals carrying Hepatitis B are from Asia or the Pacific Islands.
In the U.S., 0.2 to 0.5 percent of the population (approximately 1.25 million people) is infected with chronic Hepatitis B with 50 percent of those infected being of Asian descent. HBV can be contracted during birth with 8.9 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders carrying the disease. However, this disease is preventable by simply receiving a Hepatitis B vaccination. The problem is that the availability of such vaccines in Asian countries is quite low.
Some of the most common genetic disorders for those of Asian descent are blood diseases. A study shows that one in seven Asians carry a gene that damages red blood cells.
This common blood disorder is called thalassemia — a disease that causes a defect when the body is creating an important protein in red blood cells. A survey conducted by the United Kingdom Thalasseaemia Society concluded that even though only 5 percent of Asians are aware of this disease, 80 percent of Asians are born with it.
Another blood-related disease that is common among Asians is sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is the abnormal shaping of red blood cells that does not allow for easy passage throughout the blood vessels. Individuals of Southeast Asian descent are more prone to having this abnormal shaping of blood cells out of all Asian ethnic groups, according to the National Institute of Health.