Globally health burden of every country witness modifications after every few years due to various factors like change in population size, economic growth, changes in lifestyle, industrialisation, technological interventions and environmental shifts.

In India, the shift of disease burden has moved from communicable to non-communicable.  It has doubled over the past two decades. Today non-communicable diseases are responsible for more than 61 per cent of all deaths in India as claimed by a new report by Delhi-based Research and Advocacy Organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The reported titled Body Burden: State of India’s Health highlights that “though India has made tall commitments to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases, the country lacks quality data on their prevalence and fatality, which is essential to formulate action plans.”

The last comprehensive data on NCDs was calculated a decade ago. The ICMR started a study in 2008 to map diabetes but it has been able to cover only 15 states in nine years.

Even for cancer, the Population Based Cancer Registries by ICMR is among the most comprehensive source of data on cancer. Though, it covers only 10 per cent of the population and the last data released is from 2014. 

Same is the story with mental health data. At least 150 million people in India are suffering from mental illnesses and are in need of active medical intervention. But India lack nationwide data about the mental health of people.  “Although India is improving the frequency of releasing surveys but limited sample size becomes hindrance in understanding the extent of NCDS” highlights the report.

India, in part, dealing with a transition from lack of food to over-nutrition due to bad food habits. This transition is mainly responsible for lifestyle diseases such as food allergies, hormonal disorders, diabetes, obesity and various forms of cancers are triggered by physical inactivity and changes in lifestyle.

The report also highlights that antibiotics can also possibly play a role in the development of obesity. Several studies have indicated that antibiotic use during childhood led to increased risk of obesity in adolescence and adulthood.

The report also identifies air pollution as another major risk factor as it contributes to a huge disease burden.  

“The link between foul environment-our air, water pollution, mounds of garbage or toxins in food- and health is so evident that it is crying for solutions. There is no hiding from this anymore. No option to bury our heads in sands of disinformation and inaction” writes Sunita Narain, director of Centre for Science and Environment. 

India’s Environment Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan recently denied the linkage between air pollution and increasing number of deaths due to diseases triggered by it. However the government does not have data about human toll caused by air pollution. 

Global studies claim that pollutants in the air have been linked to heart diseases but there is also no official data available with Indian government about the cardiovascular disease deaths due to air pollution.

In a nutshell, the report highlights that India is facing a unique healthcare challenge. “On one hand, it has diseases of poor such as malnutrition and cholera. On the other, it also has diseases of rich such as cancer and diabetes.”

This has put huge burden on Indian healthcare system.

The CSE report also calls for policy of prevention. The report highlights how over the past three decades, healthy foods have become expensive while junk foods have become cheaper. It also argues that given its size and population, India needs state specific health policies because of differences in epidemiological alterations between states. 

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