A health time bomb

THE WHO has warned India that if serious steps are not taken immediately, millions could die and billions of dollars could be lost in terms of lost work hours and medical costs. No doubt, the life expectancy of Indians has appreciably gone up in recent decades, thanks to medical and pharmaceutical advancements and improvement of basic medical facilities in rural areas and growth of multi-disciplinary specialty hospitals in towns and cities. Despite some spectacular progress in biotechnology and formulation of generic drugs, India continues to lag behind other developed countries in health care.

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Published: Sat 4 Mar 2006, 9:18 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:15 PM

One of the reasons for this disturbing situation is its huge population. And, in recent years, the rapid economic development has had a telling effect on people’s wealth as well as health. While a middle class Indian enjoys all good things of life, which his forefathers had never dreamt of, new diseases and sedentary habits are taking their toll on health. The country has caught up faster than expected with some developed countries in cardiovascular diseases and diabetes —a majority of cases are byproducts of a high-pressure life. Besides, chronic diseases and the ever-increasing incidence of Aids are major death claimants. According to projections made for the next 10 years, persisting illnesses kill more than 60 million Indians and work-related losses caused by diseases amount to a staggering $237 billion.

In the coming years, diabetes is going to assume epidemic proportions with a 35 per cent growth and heart-related problems are slated to go up by 18 per cent. By conservative estimates, over 5 million people are HIV positive, the highest number of Aids patients in the world after South Africa, and those cases —and deaths —are bound to go up.

Malthusian theory enthusiasts may argue that millions dying of various diseases is but natural way of levelling population in a country with a billion plus people. That is regressive thinking because populated countries are proving that manpower is an asset and nations with shrinking populations fear socio-economic problems in future. If India’s health woes are viewed against this background, it is imperative for the country to diagnose its problems carefully and find a cure. It is also important for India, which is trying to project the country as a cheap and competent healthcare destination for overseas patients, before embarking on such an exercise.

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