The Union Health Ministry has pledged to increase funding for the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These lifestyle related conditions include illnesses such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
The prevalence of NCDs is rapidly increasing in India. As a result, their treatment now forms the priority of healthcare funding. For the 2017-18 period, the government increased the funding allocated to combating NCDs compared to the previous year, from Rs 555 crore (86.6 million USD) to Rs 955 crore (149 million USD). This was the largest increase in government funding of all aspects of healthcare.
“NCDs are Union Health Ministry’s major concern and we are running special screening programs for the disease category. We may get more funds in next financial year and one of our focuses will be NCDs,” said Kavita Singh, finance director for the, National Rural Health Mission.
Prioritisation of NCDs is a necessity, as they now form the most common causes of death across all but a handful of states. Heart conditions now account for 28 percent of all deaths in India and are the most common causes of death in India, far surpassing infectious diseases in terms of death toll. Overall, NCDs account for 61 percent of deaths in the country. These figures are only projected to increase.
The International Diabetes Federation has estimated that, by 2040, the diabetic population in India will have risen to around 123 million people. Current estimates place the total number of people with diabetes in India at around 50 million. While such a large increase may seem implausible, it is already underway. In 2000 the diabetic population numbered 31.7 million, showing that the trend of rapidly increasing diabetes cases is already in place.
These lifestyle risk factors manifest most prominently in the number of people with diabetes diabetics in the country. This is due to the combination of lifestyle risk factors combined with the genetic risk factors common amongst the Indian population. Notably, this has resulted in an age of onset of diabetes far younger in India compared to Western nations with similar lifestyle factors.
The country’s incidence of cancer is similarly expected to increase to 1.75 million cases in 2020, compared to 1.45 million cases in 2016.
The reasons for India’s rising rates of NCDs are tied to development. Increasing numbers of the population are shifting to urban environments. This is causing a rise in sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary habits, fueled by the widespread prevalence of unhealthy, processed food, which has increased risk factors for lifestyle diseases considerably.
The Indian health system will require as much extra funding as it can find. India faces a double burden of infectious and noncommunicable diseases that continue to be a burden to the country, now coupled with an overwhelming surge in NCD cases.
India’s health sector is dominated by out of pocket expenditure, with around two thirds of all healthcare spending being out of pocket. This is well known for driving many into debt and poverty in order to afford medical payments. Though the National Health Policy 2017 promised to raise government healthcare expenditure to 2.5 percent of GDP, this remains far lower than most other nations.
However, increasing finances to the healthcare system may not be enough. As NCDs are often tied in so closely with lifestyle choices, preventative measures will be necessary in order to stave off the rapid increase in cases. Knowledge about the diseases and their risk factors is vital, making education a key to addressing the issue.
Nicholas Parry has a Bachelor of Science in genetics from the University of Sheffield and a Master of Research in neuroscience from the University of Nottingham. He has been a featured writer for Health Issues since 2016. He is based in South Wales.