India is home to forty percent of the world’s cases of heart failure, according to a recent report in the Times of India. The announcement was made by Maharashtra public health minister Eknath Shinde during the Times of India’s initiative on heart failure last week.
India currently forms roughly a fifth of the world’s population; therefore the actual distribution of heart failure is around double the rate that would be expected if the condition were to be distributed globally in an equal manner. Such figures underline a key issue in Indian healthcare — heart disease is not being treated as the major issue that it represents.
Heart conditions are India’s most common cause of death. In 2016, the condition was responsible for 28.1 percent of deaths in the country. Despite the fact that a single group of conditions account for more than a quarter of deaths, the healthcare system is woefully unprepared to deal with the issue.
In 2018, Health Issues India reported on the fact that India needs 88,000 cardiologists in order to properly meet the cardiac care needs of its population. It had, at the time of writing, just 4,000. By comparison, there are 31,890 cardiologists in the United States, catering to a significantly smaller population.
However, while improved cardiac care will alleviate some of the mortality rate of the condition, it does less to reduce the overall number of cases. Indians are prone to a number of lifestyle-related conditions that are risk factors for heart disease — most prominent among these are diabetes and hypertension.
Many among the Indian population harbour unique genes presenting heightened risk of diabetes. For some, this may mean the condition is all but inevitable. Others may be able to stave off the condition through lifestyle alterations such as reduction of sugar intake along with regular exercise.
Alterations in lifestyle have added to the ever growing number of individuals with heart conditions in India. A shift in India’s urban regions to sedentary lifestyles, along with an abundance of processed, high calorie food — often at a cheaper price than healthy produce — has created an environment in which the risks for heart conditions are abundant and normalised.
In order to fully address the situation, lifestyles must be altered, exercise must be encouraged, and, in parallel to this, the healthcare system must be strengthened to provide adequate support to those who have developed heart conditions. Failure to do so will allow India to continue to be severely overrepresented in the world’s cardiac disease cases.