India has the highest disease burden of any country in the world. We have lower life expectancy as compared to developed countries and many of our neighbours. India is loosing 6% of it's GDP due to poor health.
Life expectancy in India is only 69 years, whereas in Japan, it is almost 84 years. Life expectancy is the average lifespan of an individual.
It is not only desirable to lead a long life, it is even more important that we maintain good health during the lifespan.
Healthy life expectancy (HALE) is the average number of years that a newborn can expect to live in “full health”; not hampered by disabling diseases or injuries. HALE in India is only about 59 years compared to almost 75 years in Japan.
Disease Burden: Overall disease burden is measured in DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years Lost). It combines "years lost due premature death" and "years lost due to disability/poor quality of life" in a population.
India has the highest disease burden of any country in the world. India has about 21% of the global disease burden. Forty-two percent of the disease burden is from Communicable Diseases, 44% from Non-communicable diseases and 14% from injuries. Over the last decade, the disease burden from communicable diseases has been going down and from non-communicable diseases and injuries increasing.
India is loosing 6% of its GDP due to premature death and preventable diseases (2010 World Bank Report).
What are the implications of low life expectancy, HALE and a high disease burden in India? It is contributing to poor quality of life and unhappiness in the population. It is also hampering economic development of the country.
To improve the health of the population, we can focus on preventing diseases/injuries or treating them after they occur. Among these two strategies, preventing diseases is much more cost-effective.
To reduce disease burden and improve life expectancy as well as HALE, there are two strategic solutions. Treatment of diseases/injuries or their Prevention.
We need both strategies in India. Unfortunately, most of the focus presently is on Treatment of diseases/injuries.
Treatment of disease and injuries has several challenges: The high cost of treatment and lack of accessability to quality care.
Prevention of diseases and injuries is a much more effective strategy. Here the responsibility is on each individual to lead a healthy lifestyle. The challenges to implement this strategy are:
a) The Medical system in India does not prioritize this strategy and there are few incentives for physicians to promote disease prevention.
b) In adults, it is more difficult to change lifestyle health habits by education. They are also less motivated.
The greatest opportunity is to promote healthy lifestyles in children. They will maintain these healthy habits throughout their life and allow each child to reach their full potential.