Dubai: Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of premature death in the UAE and other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, new data released by an insurer suggest.
Zurich in the Middle East has confirmed that it paid out Dh246 million to beneficiaries of policy holders who died or suffered from critical illness. The claims money, distributed between January 2013 and December 2015, provide some insights into the major causes of premature death in the region.
According to Zurich, more than a third (32 per cent) of its life insurance policy customers who died had suffered from cancer while nearly half (43 per cent) had a heart disease. Among those who filed critical illness claims, almost half (49 per cent) battled cancer while another 48 per cent reported having a heart disease.
“Heart disease was the leading cause of death for our policy holders and cancer a close second [during the review period],” Chris Bagnall, chief underwriter for Zurich International Life Limited in the Middle East and Asia, told Gulf News.
Zurich’s data also showed that a number of people succumb to a heart ailment or cancer, among other causes, before reaching the retirement age, with more than half (52 per cent) of insured individuals dying at the age of 51 and 36 per cent dying between the age of 40 and 50. A small number (11 per cent) died in their 30s and 5 per cent in their 20s.
Many residents contracted a critical illness as early as age 47, further underscoring the importance of having an insurance in place. “[The insights offered in the claims data] highlight the need for protection and the valuable role insurance can play in the financial protection of our customer’s families and businesses,” said Bagnall.
The data correspond with the figures provided earlier by the Worth Health Organisation, which pointed to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries, as the leading killers in the region.
In Abu Dhabi alone, the Health Authority reported that cardiovascular diseases accounted for 36.7 per cent of all death cases in 2013, while cancer was blamed for 12.9 per cent of all deaths, with Haematopoietic and related tissue cancers identified as the dominant cases. Injuries, which include those caused by road accidents, emerged as another leading cause of death (19.6 per cent).
According to the Global Health Action journal published on the United States National Centre for Biotechnology Information website, cardiovascular disease and cancer were among the top four main public health issues in the UAE, accounting for 25 per cent and 10 per cent of deaths respectively in 2010. Injury and respiratory disorders also emerged on the list. The incidence of all cancers was projected to double by 2020.
“Historically, the UAE had a much lower incidence of cancer than Western countries; however, over the last 40 years, it has undergone a period of dramatic economic, social and demographic change, resulting in increased life expectancy and prosperity. This epidemiological transition has led to significant increases in the incidence of all chronic non-communicable diseases, including cancer,” the report said.
As to what was the trigger for many heart disease-related deaths, Bagnall cited obesity and sedentary lifestyle as the leading causes. “We are seeing an increase in the number of [insurance] applicants who are overweight or obese. As a consequence, we are also seeing an increase in the number of applicants with type 2 diabetes,” said Bagnall.
“Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are some of the leading causes behind cardiovascular-related deaths. Obesity has also been linked with an increased risk for certain cancers, such as bowel and breast cancer.”
The claims statistics apply mostly to the UAE, with 90 per cent of them relating to policies affected in the country. Zurich also does life business in Bahrain and Qatar.