Overall disease pattern in India is showing a perceptible shift from the age old ‘Infectious Diseases’ to ‘Non-infectious Chronic Illnesses’. As reported by IMS, incidence of chronic ailments in India has increased from 23% in 2005 to 26% in 2009.
It is estimated that chronic illnesses will be the leading cause of both morbidity and mortality by the next decade in the country, significantly increasing the burden of disease across the socio-economic strata of the nation. It goes without saying that poor people will be hit harder, if corrective actions are not undertaken right now.
As a consequence of such changing disease pattern, healthcare needs and related systems of the country should undergo a paradigm shift together with the emergence of a carefully planned concept of ‘Preventive Healthcare’ for the entire population of the nation.
It is a myth that non-infectious illnesses are more prevalent in higher socio-economic strata:
There is a common perception that Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are more prevalent within higher socio-economic strata of the society. However, a national survey done in India shows that diseases related to misuse of alcohol and tobacco are higher in the poorest 20 percent quintile of our society.
However, a research recently study done in 1600 villages, spanning across 18 states of India and published on the September 27, 2010 edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), reported that the risk-factors of non-communicable diseases are high in rural India, which is the home of over 70% of the population of India. (Non-communicable Disease Risk Factors High in Rural India.
As this population has limited access and affordability to healthcare in general, the situation demands greater importance and focus.
Risk-factors of NCDs in rural India:
The above BMJ study highlighted prevalence of the following key risk-factors for the vulnerable population:
• Tobacco use (40% men, 4% women)
• Low fruit and vegetable intake (69% men, 75% women)
• Obesity (19% men, 28% women)
• High cholesterol (33% men, 35% women)
• Hypertension (20% men, 22% women)
• Diabetes (6% men, 5% women)
• Underweight (21% men, 18% women)
Current healthcare system in India:
Currently with appropriate disease treatment measures, alleviation of acute symptoms of the disease that a particular patient is suffering from, is the key concern of all concerned, starting from the doctors to the patients including their families. The process of the medical intervention revolves round treatment protocols and procedures based on the diagnosis of the current ailments and not so much on preventive measures for other underlying diseases, except with the use of vaccines for some specific diseases.
Developing a protocol for ‘Preventive Healthcare’ for non-communicable diseases is very important:
In the above process, while addressing the acute problems of the patients’ current ailments is very important, proper risk assessment of other underlying diseases, if any, which the patient could suffer from in future, for various reasons, do not attract any organized attention. As a result the important advice on preventive healthcare from the doctors, properly highlighting its importance, is not available to most of the patients to enable them to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, their future burden of disease.
Keeping such common practices in view and noting that ‘Preventive Healthcare’ is significantly different from ‘Curative Healthcare’, developing an appropriate protocol for ‘Preventive Healthcare’ has become a crying need of the hour.
‘Preventive Healthcare’ in India should attract high priority of the healthcare policy makers with a careful vigil on its effective implementation at the ground level:
All said and done, the ‘Preventive Healthcare’ system in India is in its very nascent stage. If appropriate measures are taken in this area, like learning to reduce the impact of mental and physical stress, avoiding sedentary life style, taking healthy diet, avoidance of tobacco and alcohol consumption, leading healthy sex life etc., it can in turn immensely help the population to remain disease free and healthy, thereby contributing to improvement of their respective work productivity in a very substantial way.
Recently re-structured Medical Council of India should also step in:
Thus the role of medical professionals in the disease prevention process is also very important. The interaction of the patients with the doctors when they meet to address any ailment provides huge opportunity to the doctors to advise those patients about various measures of underlying disease prevention, for which different patients have different types of exposures.
Keeping all these points in view, through regulatory initiatives, the newly restructured Medical Council of India (MCI) should consider making ‘Preventive Healthcare’ an integral part of each interaction of a patient with a doctor.
Include the civil society in the preventive healthcare initiatives:
The risk factors of many of the diseases like, cancer, chronic respiratory disorders, cardiovascular, diabetes, and hypertension can be identified well in advance and appropriately assessed. Therefore, such diseases can be prevented effectively, to a great extent, provided the healthcare policy of the country supports the ‘Disease Prevention’ process, program and initiatives through adequate resource allocation, improving awareness of the civil society and above all including them in this healthcare improvement process of the nation.
Need to raise general awareness towards ‘Preventive Healthcare’:
Raising the level of awareness of ‘Preventive Healthcare’ is indeed very important. It requires a change in the mindset of the community in general, together with the healthcare policy makers, medical profession, employers, patients and their families.
National Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) prevention program of the government:
As per the planning commission, the government of India has initiated the following structured measures for the prevention of NCD:
• “Health education for primary and secondary prevention of NCDs through mobilizing community action;
• Development of treatment protocols for education and training of physicians in the prevention and management of NCDs:
• Strengthening/creation of facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of CVD and stroke, and the establishment of referral linkages;
• Promotion of the production of affordable drugs to combat diabetes, hypertension, and myocardial infarction;
• Development and support of institutions for the rehabilitation of people with disabilities;
• Research support for: Multispectral population-based interventions to reduce risk factors;
• The role of nutrition and lifestyle-related factors;
• The development of cost effective interventions at each level of care”.
Many diseases in India, with proper ‘Disease Prevention’ measures can be effectively averted. It is worth repeating that some common measures which can be easily practiced through community initiatives are maintenance of proper hygiene, sanitation, adequate physical activities, moderation in alcohol and tobacco consumption, healthy sexual activities, avoidance of unhealthy food etc.
All the state governments of India through Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives with all stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry and the civil society, should make the movement of ‘Preventive healthcare’ self-sustainable across the nation. Health being a state subject in India, the role and initiatives of the respective state governments towards this important initiative will be the key determinant of success or failure.
Such a movement, at the same time, needs to be strengthened by appropriate government policy measures and regulations wherever necessary. Pan India roll out of innovative disease awareness campaigns in tandem, highlighting sustainable and effective disease prevention processes will help reducing longer term healthcare cost significantly, thereby translating the well-known dictum into reality, ‘Prevention is better than cure’.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.