More than 70% Covid-19 deaths in Malaysia had comorbidities – Expert


MORE than 70 per cent of COVID-19 death cases in Malaysia had comorbidities of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), said an exercise medicine expert Prof Dr Lee Chee Pheng.

He said the risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher in people with weak immune defences and could further be compromised in chronic conditions such as heart and lung diseases as well as diabetes.

“Adding to the burden can be emotional stress, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion, which can further make one prone to diseases by weakening immunity.

“The presence of risk factors for NCDs like tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol during childhood and adolescence has significant association with development of disease in adulthood,” he said in his column published by Bernama.

NCDs are today the world’s biggest killers and according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data (, of 56.9 million global deaths recorded in 2016, 40.5 million, or 71 per cent were due to NCDs.

Dr Lee said while maintaining a healthy diet with foods that boost immunity could help fight infections, physical activity and nutrition could also help boost the immune system.

He quoted WHO guidelines in 2010 (, where an adult aged between 18 and 64 years should perform at least 150 min per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (PA) or 75 min per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic PA, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity PA.

“Malaysia has 36.9 per cent physically inactive adults. Meanwhile, the level of inactivity is higher in females (50 per cent) compared to males (24.7 per cent),” he said.

About food intake, he mentioned foods rich in Vitamin C, D, and E improve the immune system by increasing the infection-fighting cells.

“The antioxidant in Vitamin C and E plays an important role in controlling infections and functioning of the immune system. Also, keeping the body hydrated and having adequate sleep can help in curtailing the disease. It is important to keep in mind, however, that what works in combating COVID-19 itself is yet unknown,” he said.

On another note, Dr Lee highlighting a study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention which concludes that older people with pre-existing health conditions were more prone to getting affected by COVID-19 (

In Italy, he said nearly one-fourth (23 per cent) of Italians were over the age of 65 years, with many having pre-existing conditions like hypertension and respiratory ailments that predispose them to contracting COVID-19.

“An analysis of COVID-19 cases in the United States shows the highest case-fatality rate (CFR) in persons aged 65 years and above, indicating risk of disease and death.

He said according to the report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019, individuals at highest risk were those above 60 years of age with comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.

Meanwhile, a study on COVID-19 hospitalised patients in Wuhan found almost half of the cases (48 per cent) suffering from underlying chronic diseases. Of the total cases, 30 per cent had hypertension, followed by diabetes (19 per cent) and coronary heart disease (eight per cent).