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Govt should heed to growing burden of NCDs in India

116 per 1,000 population suffer from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in India. Environment factors are the biggest cause of NCDs followed by inactive lifestyle and imbalanced diet

Govt should heed to growing burden of NCDs in India
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Govt should heed to growing burden of NCDs in India

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Assocham's report found that more than 2/3 of the individuals suffering from NCDs are in the most productive life age groups i.e., between 26-59 years. This is an alarming trend and points to the grim reality that the burden of NCDs on India is long-lasting given that 65 per cent of the country's population is below 35 years of age. The survey has identified hypertension, digestive disease, and diabetes as the top three NCDs followed by respiratory diseases, brain/neurological disorders, heart diseases/CVD, kidney disorders, and cancer in the order of prevalence

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), the apex trade association of the country, had some time back unveiled India's largest primary healthcare survey report on the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the county. The survey, which was conducted as part of ASSOCHAM's 'Illness to Wellness' campaign, has revealed that India's NCD burden is growing at an alarming rate with the average age for onset falling sharply. The survey report, titled 'Non-Communicable Diseases in India', covered 2,33,672 people and 673 public health offices in 21 states, to analyse the rising cases of NCDs in the country and the social profile of suffering households.

Obviously, the survey report should be an eye-opener for one and all, the general public as well as the policy-makers, as the survey has come out with the fact that prevalence of NCDs in the country is 116 per 1,000 population which shows a quantum jump of these preventable diseases among individuals above 35 years of age. The report shows that NCDs increase after 18 years and show a quantum leap when an individual crosses the age of 35 years. It found that more than 2/3 of the individuals suffering from NCDs are in the most productive life age groups i.e., between 26-59 years. This is an alarming trend and points to the grim reality that the burden of NCDs on India is long-lasting given that 65 per cent of the country's population is below 35 years of age. The survey has identified hypertension, digestive disease, and diabetes as the top three NCDs followed by respiratory diseases, brain/neurological disorders, heart diseases/CVD, kidney disorders, and cancer in the order of prevalence. Environment factors are the biggest cause of NCDs followed by inactive lifestyle and imbalanced diet; intoxication (alcohol & tobacco consumption) and leisure lifestyle.

The situation is really alarming as the country is gradually but surely moving towards becoming the NCD capital of the world. There is urgent need to arrest the trend. For the country to curb the alarming rise in the number of NCDs, it is essential to significantly increase public expenditure on healthcare, which includes the creation of healthcare infrastructure including health centers, hospitals, medical colleges, research institutes, and laboratories, as a percentage of GDP. The policy-makers should take the situation seriously and must launch national programs to extend financial protection to enable coverage of the predictable and long-term cost of treatment to be financed through taxation. The battle against NCDs is half won if symptoms are detected early. Towards this, empowerment of the community through effective health education and preventive health checks can help to completely manage the situation and cure it. This can be further complemented by creating awareness about the benefits of health insurance in times of health emergency and coverage of low-income and vulnerable households under the universal health insurance scheme of the government of India. It is common knowledge that NCDs are preventable and with changes in lifestyle, dietary habits, and increase in physical activities among others its prevalence can be reduced and checked considerably. There is urgent need to take necessary preventive actions for early detection and treatment if conditions of specific NCDs are setting in and towards this strengthen the country's existing healthcare system to make it accessible to all.

So, the need of the hour is to create awareness and sensitise the public as well as policymakers about the impending healthcare tragedy if preventive measures are not taken to check the uncontrolled journey of NCDs in the country. NCDs have significant homogeneity and variation across different states and one size fits all principle will not work in mitigating the brewing NCD crisis. The focus therefore should be on specific measures that work in each state. It is imperative to prevent and control risk factors in an integrated manner by developing strategies and policies to inhibit the NCD burden on the country. Moreover, a conscious effort needs to be made to reduce sedentary lifestyle, break unhealthy habits like low physical activity, and unhealthy food habits that have become integral aspects of modern-day lifestyle and have been found to have the most significant role in causing NCDs. The central government should act fast on this healthcare scare before it gets out of control.

(The author is freelance journalist with varied experience in different fields)

Sreeja Ramesh
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