Can I Prevent Critical Illnesses? [Expert Interview]
53% of all deaths in India are caused be chronic diseases (via The World Health Organisation). By 2020, this number will escalate by a shocking 8 million. We aren’t just talking about coronary heart diseases (leading to heart attack) and cerebrovascular diseases (leading to stroke); Indians are also at high risk of other critical illnesses like cancer, renal failure, diabetes and liver cirrhosis.
To help you understand this further, Dr. Ruchi Dass – Founder and CEO of the HealthCursor Consulting Group – answers our questions about what these critical illnesses are, where India stands on the world’s critical illnesses map, and what you can do to prevent these life-threatening health conditions.
Are today's younger generations suffering from 'old people's diseases' like cardiac issues and renal failures? What is creating this rise in non communicable diseases?
Dr. Ruchi Dass: Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Most of these diseases are hereditary in nature and all kinds of population groups are affected, be they rural or urban; young or old, poor or affluent.
NCDs (Non communicable diseases) are caused by risk behavior such as tobacco use, poor diet, low physical activity and excessive alcohol consumption.
Increased health awareness seems to be influencing people to visit doctors more. What is your opinion about this?
Dr. Ruchi Dass: It is not just increased awareness but also ability to pay and the burgeoning disease burden. Due to sedentary lifestyles, bad eating habits and increased stress, people are falling ill and hence need to visit doctors often. These visits are often associated with high costs and therefore, patients delay seeing their GP because of the out-of-pocket expense.
Today people are aware and have realised that this is the realm of collaborative healthcare where patient and doctors have to work together. Basic care including routine vital checks can reveal conditions that may need further testing.
India is fast becoming the world's capital for poor health. With soaring numbers for diabetes, lung cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer etc, the middle classes are heavily burdened by expensive medical costs. What do you think is the reason behind this ailing population?
Dr. Ruchi Dass: India is experiencing a rapid health transition with a rising burden of non-communicable diseases that have emerged as the leading cause of mortality. These account for over 42 per cent of all deaths. People check their bank balance twice a day but when it comes to health, there is this reluctance. Sedentary lifestyle is the root cause of this problem and lack of proper health coverage adds to the worry. We call it ‘Diseases of this civilisation.’
Research shows that Indians or South Asians living in London have a higher prevalence of diabetes compared to the white population or the Afro-Caribbean population although they are not more obese than the British. Reports say people in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Mauritius and Mali share the common prevalence rates and seem to share the susceptibility genes, and the same environmental risk factors. We also share the lowered threshold of conventional risk factors, unfortunately.
It is widely believed that cardiovascular diseases will be the largest cause of death and disability in India by 2020. Cancer is another malady whose sudden increase has forced the government to sit and take note. There are some 6 million cancer cases in India, and the number is only growing.