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Lancet Series Examines Health Challenges In India

“Indians are growing richer, but they are also adopting unhealthy lifestyles that could take years off their lives and threaten economic growth,” according to an article published in Lancet Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports (1/11). The article is one of seven published in the Lancet as part of a series that also includes a set of commentary pieces on health issues facing the country (1/11).

“One in every five people across the country has at least one chronic disease like cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic disorders, the study notes,” the Wall Street Journal’s “India Real Time” blog reports. “The onslaught of new and cheaper motor vehicles, easier access to processed foods, and the influx of multinational food and tobacco companies all contributed to people taking up behavior harmful to their health, the study says” (Chang, 1/11).

“India’s epidemic of chronic diseases and injuries has already passed its early stages; the demographic and epidemiological transitions that are in progress have important implications for individuals, families, communities, and the nation as a whole,” the study authors write. “For universal health care to be achieved, the emerging agenda of chronic diseases and injuries should be a political priority and central to the national consciousness of India,” they conclude (Patel et al., 1/11).

“India is a vast, complex country, and despite recent economic development, its health-care system is inadequate to deal with the country’s main health challenges: infectious diseases, chronic diseases, and poor maternal and child health,” according to an introduction to the journal series. “The papers in this series reveal the full extent of opportunities and difficulties in Indian healthcare, by examining infectious and chronic diseases, availability of treatments and doctors, and the infrastructure to bring about universal health care by 2020,” the executive summary says (1/11).

Another article in the series highlights the challenges of infant and maternal mortality in India, where 1.8 million children under 5 and 68,000 mothers died in 2008, Bloomberg reports. The article reviews reproductive health, child health and nutrition in India before calling for the country to “set up a national health-care program and focus on nutritional deficiencies in babies and mothers.”

Rather than directing national nutrition programs at children between ages 3 and 6, such “programs should be changed to focus on pregnant mothers and children younger than 2 years, as that initial period is critical to preventing health complications, [Vinod] Paul [lead author on the article] said,” according to the news service. “Paul and his co-authors also called for better coordination between the central and state governments and new policies to encourage women to bear a child only after they turn 20,” Bloomberg writes (Narayan, 1/11). 

Additional articles in the series highlight “the poor in India are the most vulnerable to diseases – and are further burdened by having to pay for healthcare in a country where health indicators lag behind its impressive economic growth figures,” BBC writes. The series also notes “it is important that India, with its fast-growing population soon exceeding 1.2 billion, takes steps to prevent illnesses such as heart or respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes” (1/11).

A complete list of the papers and commentary in the Lancet Series on India can be found here.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.