Diabetes Skyrocketing in India

This came in via a number of readers today. It’s a posting from the Food News wire concerning the soaring diabetes rates in India. What’s perhaps more depressing than the diabetes data (and its mischaracterisation as a ‘lifestyle disease’) is the fact that the article’s authors can only see a solution to diet-induced disease through private healthcare. Government intervention in the marketing of food to children, for instance, isn’t on the cards. With a vision as tunnelled as this, the authors would undoubtedly find a comfortable and lucrative (if brief) tenure in the current US administration.

By 2020, 7 million Indians may die of lifestyle diseases
24 Sep 2007

NEW DELHI: In a little over a decade from now, chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and AIDS would account for over 65% of deaths in India compared to 53% in 2005. By 2020, chronic diseases are expected to claim 7.63 million lives in India, compared to 3.78 million in 1990, a study said.

While ailments like leprosy, poliomyelitis and tetanus has been declining due to concerted government efforts and higher awareness, there has been an increase in lifestyle or chronic diseases like hypertension, cancer, AIDS and diabetes. The shift in the profile of killer diseases is also a result of marked changes in demographics, a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers said.

India that is already home to the largest number of diabetes patients is projected to have 30 million diabetics by 2020, of which 6.6 million or 22% would suffer from complications such as diabetic nephropathy. Doctors blame sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, obesity, stress and consumption of a diet rich in fat and sugar for the high incidence. Similarly, stress both at work and at home is going to take a further toll with the number of people suffering from hypertension estimated to rise 213.5 million in 2025, compared to 118.2 million in 2000 representing an 80% rise in a span of a quarter century.

A recent study had estimated that nearly 11% of India’s urban population and 3% of rural population above the age of 15 have diabetes. The World Health Organization estimates that mortality from diabetes and heart disease cost India about $210 billion every year and is expected to increase to $335 billion in the next 10 years. These estimates are based on lost productivity, resulting primarily from premature death.

While traditionally the government’s focus was on combating infectious diseases, it has now decided to address the issues related to chronic or lifestyle diseases, along with private sector.

But it’s the private sector which accounts for 70% of the hospitals in the country, providing about 60% of all out-patient care and as much as 40% of in-patient care. And, by 2010, it is expected to notch up around 80% of the healthcare market, comprising hospitals and diagnostic centres.

While the growth of private healthcare facilities in India vis-a-vis public healthcare facilities is an emerging trend, the sector requires investment of $25.7 billion over the next three years. By 2010, an additional 4.5 lakh hospital beds will be required, the study adds. Today, the value of the healthcare sector is over $34 billion, translating to roughly 6% of GDP and the sector is projected to grow to nearly $40 billion by 2012.

While the government is drawing up plans to build at least half-a-dozen AIIMS-like multi-speciality hospitals, the study said, the government was expected to chip in with only 15-20% of the investment requirement.

There are however significant challenges that need to be addressed. The lack of adequate healthcare insurance for a vast number of people is a fundamental problem. Currently 11% of the population has any form of health insurance coverage but with growing public-private partnership in this sector, many more people can be brought under insurance coverage.