India – Young Today, Old Tomorrow: Emerging Issues of Aging, Health and Socioeconomic Profile of the Country

‘World Health Day’ is celebrated every year on April 7, the day ‘World Health Organization (WHO)’ was founded in 1948.

Each year, on this day, people from all walks of life across the globe are invited by WHO to focus on a particular emerging health challenge of global relevance, which becomes the theme of the ‘World Health Day’ for the year.

In 2012, the theme for this day was, Aging and health: Good health adds life to years”. It focuses on how good health throughout the life span can help the senior citizens to lead a full and productive life and in turn makes them valuable and experienced resources not just to their respective families, but also to the societies and communities they belong to.

Aging affects all:

The process of aging, without any exception, affects the entire population, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, alike, across the world and is considered as one of the key factors of social transformations through the passage of time.

With the advancement in medical science coupled with increasing social awareness for living a healthy life, the average life expectancy of the population in the 20th century reportedly increased by around 30 years in the developed world and is expected to maintain similar growth trend in the 21st century, as well.

Now, with an increasing life expectancy even in the developing world, the issue is assuming greater magnitude and at a much faster pace.

In the language of Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs, the global icon and the former CEO of Apple Inc., during his commencement speech to Stanford in 2005, very aptly articulated as follows:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is, as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

In a normal situation old age precedes death and just like the inevitability of death, everybody, even a baby born today will need to embrace the old age before being cleared away by death. Thus, as the population will age as a natural process, there will be growing need to make even the old age more meaningful. Sounds like a tall call, but quite pertinent indeed.

Although, an average elderly person of today is much healthier than of the past generations, they will still need appropriate health management and social security plans, especially for an emerging economy, like India.

World population aging faster:

Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations in its publication titled, “World Population Aging:  1950-2050”, described the trend of ageing of the global population and highlighted the following:

  • Population aging is unprecedented : This is unparallel in human history and the current century will witness even more rapid aging than the previous one.
  • Population aging is pervasive:  It is affecting every man, woman and child across the world, though currently it is at different stages of progress in different countries.
  • Population aging is enduring:  The world will not return to the young populations of our ancestors.
  • Population aging has profound implications:  It affects many facets of lives of human beings.

Increasing burden of disease:

The burden of some serious age related diseases increases by manifold as the life progresses towards its ‘twilight zone’. Even now, the treatment costs and overall burden of age related diseases, both in the developed and the developing countries, are escalating in an alarming proportion.

Age related diseases:

According WHO, in the industrialized countries over 75 percent of deaths in people of over 65 years of age are due to cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, in addition to disabilities like, loss of bone density leading to osteoporosis.

As per published reports, the incidence of age related Alzheimer’s disease, which is now incurable, will almost double every 20 years to reach around 66 million in 2030 and over 115 million in 2050.

Research for delaying the onset:

Reuters in an article titled, “Is aging a disease?” published in May 20, 2010 reported that many scientists from various parts of the world are now studying the genetic mechanisms of the old persons to help delay, if not overcome, the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular ailments and many other age-related illnesses to help leading a better quality of life during old age of the human population.

Elderly population and the impact:

As per an estimate of the United Nations (UN), there will be around 1200 million people over 65 years of age by 2025. Currently, from across the world millions of aging people are denied of proper health care for various reasons. The situation in India is much worse.

It is envisaged by many that failure, either on the part of the Government or society at large, to address this critical issue today, could have a snowballing effect tomorrow.

In Japan, currently half of the national health budget is spent on the elderly individuals, which constitute around a whopping 23 percent of the country’s population. According to another estimate of the Japanese Government, by 2055 half of their total population will constitute of retired senior citizens.


With over 65 percent of the population of India being now below 30 years of age, the country is  well poised to have one of the largest numbers of young and productive population in the world, though 7 percent of country’s 1.13 billion people are now over 60 years of age and the number is growing.

The Median Age of the population will keep on increasing over a period of time as follows:

Aging Profile: India and other countries

Year 2000 2015 2025 2030 2035 2040 2050
Median Age–India 23.4 27.2 30.3 31.4 33.5 35.0 37.9
Median Age–World 26.4 29.5 31.9 33.0 34.0 34.9 36.8
Median Age–More Developed Regions 37.3 41.2 43.3 44.2 45.0 45.4 45.2
Median Age–Less Developed Regions 24.1 27.5 30.0 31.2 32.4 33.5 35.7
Median Age–Least Developed Regions 18.1 19.6 21.2 22.2 23.3 24.5 27.1

(Source: Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United

Nations Secretariat)

Growth of elderly population is much faster than the population:

As as per the paper titled, “Implications of an Aging Population in India: Challenges and Opportunities” presented at ‘The Living to 100 and Beyond Symposium’ of the Society of Actuaries in Orlando on January 12–14, 2005, the Indian population has approximately tripled during the last 50 years, but the number of elderly Indians has increased more than fourfold.

Assuming continuation of this trend, the United Nations have predicted that the Indian population will again grow by 50 percent in the next 50 years, with the elderly population recording another fourfold growth.

Changing demographic profile:

The situation in India, therefore, by no means is a trivial one and needs to be addressed with a right earnest and sooner, mainly because of the changes in the demographic profile of the country, as follows:

Projected Changes in Indian Demography (in Million)

Age Group








0-14 Years








15-59 Years








>60 Years
















(Source: Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat)

Thus, over a period of time in India, increasing number of less productive elderly people and the declining trend of the younger population, could adversely impact the overall socioeconomic profile and and the disease burden of the nation.


In India, there has been hardly any support in terms of social security, especially for a vast majority of people, who are unable to work after becoming senior citizens of the country.

In a situation like this, the Government of India, civil society and the private sector enterprises of the country should work in tandem to give shape to appropriate policy measures to effectively address the issues of the increasing number aging population of the country, over a period of time.

This is necessary not just for the socioeconomic reasons, but also to arrest any significant increase in the overall disease burden of the nation with its possible adverse impact on the growing economy of the country.

Continuing lack of interest to work out a long term social and policy measures to address the important issues related to population aging in India, in a holistic way, could significantly impede the pace of economic growth of the country, celebration of the ‘World Health Day’ on April 7, 2012 notwithstanding.

By: Tapan J 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.

From ‘Blockbuster Drugs’ to ‘Personalized Medicines’ – will it revolutionize the way the patients will be treated tomorrow?

Financial Times quoted Jeff Kendler, the CEO of Pfizersaying, “the era of dependence on a single or a couple of blockbuster drugs should be over. Lipitor sells U.S$ 12 billion a year. You can’t build a company predicted on the belief that you are going to find such a drug.”The argument is robust, what then are the alternatives?Rapid strides in pharmacogenomic bring in a promise of radically different way of treating diseases, as major pharmaceutical companies of the world make progress in developing much more effective medicines designed to target smaller populations. These medicines are termed as ‘personalized medicines’ and are expected to be an effective alternative to now quite unwieldy ‘blockbuster drugs’ business model.

In what way ‘Personalized Medicines’ will be different?

With ‘Personalized Medicines’ the health of a patient will be managed based on personal characteristics of the individual, including height, weight, diet, age, sex etc, instead of defined “standards of care”, based on averaging response across a patient group. Pharmacogenomic tests like, sequencing of human genome will determine a patient’s likely response to such drugs.

These are expected to offer more targeted and effective treatment with safer drugs, and presumably at a lesser cost. Such medicines will also help identify individuals prone to serious ailments like, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer and help physicians to take appropriate preventive measures, simultaneously. ‘Personalized medicines’ in that process will focus on what makes each patient so unique, instead of going by the generalities of a disease.

To give a quick example, genetic differences within individuals determine how their bodies react to drugs such as Warfarin, a blood thinner taken to prevent clotting. It is of utmost importance to get the dosing right, as more of the drug will cause bleeding and less of it will not have any therapeutic effect.

‘Personalized medicines’, therefore, have the potential to bring in a revolutionary change the way patients are offered treatment by the medical profession. Genomic research will enable physicians to use a patient’s genetic code to arrive at how each patient will respond to different types of treatments.

In the field of cancer, genetic tests are currently being done by many oncologists to determine which patients will be benefitted most, say by Herceptin, in the treatment of breast cancer.

What is then the aim of ‘Personalized Medicines’?

The aim of ‘personalized medicines’ is to make a perfect fit between the drug and the patient.
It is worth noting that genotyping is currently not a part of clinically accepted routine. However, it is expected to acquire this status in the western world, by 2010.

Expected benefits from ‘Personalized Medicines’:

1. More Accurate dosing: Instead of dose being decided based on age and body weight of the patients, the physicians may decide and adjust the dose of the medicines based on the genetic profiling of the patients.

2. More Targeted Drugs: It will be possible for the pharmaceutical companies to develop and market drugs for patients with specific genetic profiles. In that process, a drug needs to be tested only on those who are likely to derive benefits from it. This in turn will be able to effectively tailor clinical trials, expediting the process of market launch of these drugs.

3. Improved Health care: ‘Personalized Medicines’ will enable the physicians to prescribe ‘the right dose of the right medicine the first time for everyone’. This would give rise to much better overall healthcare.

Role of Pharmaceutical and Biotech companies:

Many research based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have taken a leading role towards development of ‘personalized medicines’ in line with their key role as healthcare enterprises. India is also taking keen interest in this science.

Some important issues:

However, there are some ethical and social issues in the development of ‘personalized medicines’ primarily in the area of genetic testing and consideration of race in the development of such medicines, which need to be effectively addressed, sooner.

Can it replace the‘Blockbuster Drugs’ business model?

Realization of deficiencies in the economics of ‘block buster drugs’ R&D business model, has made ‘personalized medicines’ a reality today.

Improved efficacy and safety of treatment with ‘personalized medicines’ will prove to be cost-effective in healthcare systems. Smaller and exclusive markets for ‘personalized medicines’ are expected to be profitable for the pharmaceutical companies. But such smaller segmentation of the market may not leave enough space for the conventional ‘blockbuster model’, which is the prime mover of the global pharmaceutical industry, today.

Reports indicate that some renowned global pharmaceutical companies like, Roche, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline are making good progress towards this direction through collaborative initiatives.

Approximate cost of ‘Genome Sequencing’:

When human genome was first sequenced, the reported cost was staggering U.S$ 3 billion. However, with the advancement of technology, it came down to U.S$ 1 million, last year. Currently, the cost has further come down to U.S$ 60,000. With the rapid stride made in the field of biotechnology, combined with the economies of scale, cost of such genetic tests is expected to be around U.S$ 1,000 in near future, making it possible for people to obtain the blue print of their genetic code.

Savings on cost of Clinical trials with ‘Personalized Medicines’:

Genome sequencing will help identifying a patient population, which will be far more likely to respond positively to the new treatment. In that process, if it reduces costs of clinical trial by even 5%, expected net savings for the industry towards clinical trial have been reported to be around U.S$ 5 billion.

With ‘personalized medicines’ the innovator companies will be able to significantly reduce both time, costs and the risks involved in obtaining regulatory approvals and penetrating new markets with simultaneous development of necessary diagnostic tests. Such tests will be able to identify patients group who will not only be most likely to be benefitted from such medicines, but also will be least likely to suffer from adverse drug reactions.

Therefore, considerable cost advantages coupled with much lesser risks of failure and significant reduction in the lead time for clinical trials are expected to make ‘personalized medicines’ much more cost effective, compared to conventional ‘blockbuster drugs’.

Innovative and cost effective way to market ‘Personalized Medicines’:

With ‘personalized medicines’ the ball game of marketing pharmaceuticals is expected to undergo a paradigm shift. Roche’s model of combining necessary diagnostic tests with new drugs will play a very important role in the new paradigm.

Roche is ensuring that with accompanying required diagnostic tests, the new oncology products developed at Genentech can be precisely matched to patients.

Can ‘Personalized Medicines’ be used in ‘Primary Care’ also?

To use ‘personalized medicines’ in a ‘primary care’ situation, currently there is no successful model. However, it has been reported that in states like, Wisconsin in the U.S, initiative to integrate genomic medicines with ‘primary care’ has already been undertaken. Scaling-up operations of such pilot projects will give a big boost to revolutionize the use of ‘personalized medicines’ for precision and targeted treatment of the ailing population.

In my view, there does not seem to be any possibility of looking back now. The robust business model of ‘personalized medicines’, is now the way forward, as much for the industry as for the patients. It is a win-win game.

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.