India’s Health Report Card!

For the world, India is a go-to-destination for Ayurveda and Yoga but unfortunately India is fast losing the importance of the age–old wisdom that came from these practices.  The WHO report identifies, the fast adoption of a western lifestyle with fast food restaurants sprawling not only the metropolitan cities but also smaller towns and villages, lack of physical activity and excessive use of tobacco as leading causes for Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD), Cardio Vascular diseases (CVDs) and Cancers in India (Thakur, 2009).

The fast developing Indian economy and supporting improved socio economic status in India is also associated with unhealthy behaviors, such as reduction of physical activity and increased rates of obesity and diabetes (Patel, 2011). These socio-economic and demographic factors are hastening this health transition, with sharp escalation of chronic disease burdens expected over the next 20 years. According to the WHO report, chronic diseases contribute to an estimated 53% of deaths and cardio vascular diseases and diabetes are increasingly prevalent in urban areas in India (Thakur, 2009). According to the 2004 data, an alarming 5.2 million (50%) deaths in India were due to chronic diseases. Mortality rates for people with age-specific chronic diseases are estimated to be higher in India than in high-income countries. In 2004, the mortality rates for chronic diseases were 769 per 100000 men (56% higher than in high-income countries in 2004) and 602 per 100000 women (100% higher than in high-income countries in 2004 (Patel, 2011).

Tobacco related cancers account for a large proportion of all cancers in India (Thakur, 2009). The Murray and Lopez study also similarly predicts that the overall NCDs burden would rise sharply by 2020 in India. About two fifth (40.4 per cent) of deaths were attributable to NCDs in 1990 and it was projected that this will increase to 66 per cent in year 2020 (Thakur, 2009).

Although a wide range of cost-effective primary and secondary chronic disease prevention strategies are available, their coverage is generally low, especially in poor and rural populations. Much of the care for chronic diseases and injuries is provided in the private sector and can be very expensive for the common man. It is predicted however that after the early phase of socioeconomic development, increased health literacy and public awareness of chronic diseases will lead to richer people adopting healthier lifestyles more quickly than less educated and poorer population groups (Patel, 2011). The focus currently now is to scale up interventions for chronic diseases and injuries through private and public sector hospitals (Patel, 2011) but the overall emphasis on preventive strategies towards living a healthy lifestyle and educating people to inculcate healthy habits is negligible. This is where I think Integrative health and wellness center models can potentially play a big role in preventive strategies and educating people on the power of self-care in mind, body and spirit.

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