India’s most common health disorders: Poor nutrition, TB

According to the Times of India, it is common and natural to think of diseases in terms of death. Often, diseases are measured by death so many people die of heart attacks and so many of dengue. While this is important, there is another dimension not measured by body counts. It is the scale of suffering and pain felt by people who live with diseases.

Talk to any middle class urban Indian and they will know of somebody who has had cancer. So, is cancer wildly spreading in India? In the last decade, the number of people with cancer has increased 46%, one of the fastest spreads. Part of it is due to much better identification, part because of longer life, and a part also because of lifestyle and diet choices.

But here’s the thing: Cancer affects 0.15% of all Indians and deaths due to it were 8% of all deaths in 2016. It’s deadly, it’s spreading, but cancer is nowhere near as prevalent as we perceive anecdotally.

The two health conditions that affect most Indians are nutritional deficiencies of various kinds, like protein, vitamin, iron and others about 46% of the population suffers from this affliction and tuberculosis, which affects nearly 39% of the population. Heart and blood circulation related diseases and diabetes are two examples of really big diseases in India. They are also non-communicable like cancer, that is, they don’t spread through external agents. Heart diseases affect 5.5 crore people and diabetes some 6.5 crore. Both cause huge loss to quality of life and limit the ability of patients to lead a productive and ‘normal’ life. Death rates are much more in the case of heart diseases, as they affect seniors more and treatments are expensive. Diabetes causes suffering and if neglected, death. But only about 3% of deaths are due to diabetes in itself.

This emerges from the recently released 2016 edition of the Global Burden of Disease data in the medical journal Lancet, and made available spanning several years by the Seattle-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Indian data is collated from various domestic surveys, registries, cause of death data and unit level SRS data recently made accessible by the government to GBD.

 Two health conditions that are incredible in scale and sweep in India are none of the above. The biggest debilitating health condition is nutritional deficiencies of various kinds like protein, vitamin, iron and others. Over 60 crore people, or about 46% of the population suffers from this affliction. Lethargy, exhaustion, weakness, inability to concentrate are some of the common and preliminary symptoms. In children, it causes serious damage to both mental and physical growth. This is a completely ‘curable’ condition because just a better diet would eliminate most of it. Over the past decade, it has increased at 8%, much less than many other diseases but an increase nevertheless.

Various infections including those that cause diarrhea or coughs cause immense suffering to over 8 crore people or about 6.4% of the population.

Many other diseases are very widely spread, like skin diseases and neurological diseases. Others like gynecological disorders and infant diseases are also common.
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