The Diabetes Epidemic in India

A young man in his early thirties struggles through traffic on his small Honda motorbike. As he enjoys a short break at a traffic signal, one foot on the road, his eyes are attracted to a billboard picturing a succulent burger. While he gazes, fantasizing about lunch, his vision starts to blur.

The light turns green, but the traffic remains motionless as people rush toward the Honda to pick up the young man, now fallen on his side. A bystander offers to take him to the nearest hospital, where he joins the burgeoning population of Indians who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, 61.3 million people in India had diabetes in 2011. That figure is projected to rise to 101.2 million by 2030. IDF data reveal that India has more diabetes than the United States. In fact, India is ranked second in the world in diabetes prevalence, just behind China.

The sanofi-aventis India SITE study (Screening India’s Twin Epidemic), rolled out during 2009/2010, was a cross-sectional epidemiological study of 16,000 patients from 800 centers in Maharashtra, New Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. About 60 percent of the surveyed population suffered from diabetes, hypertension, or both, and 70 percent of the patients had uncontrolled diabetes.

The sanofi-aventis nationwide study identified the need for prompt action on a national scale to control diabetes in India. Dr. Bhaswati Mukherjee, the associate director of cardio-metabolism at sanofi, identified diabetes as one of the key public health issues adversely impacting the Indian economy. He emphasized the need for regular screening and increasing awareness among the Indian diabetes population.

India aims to combat rising diabetes healthcare costs through diabetes screening programs executed nationwide. The National Program for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases, and Stroke (NPCDCS) expects to conclude implementation during 2011/2012. The initiative, approved in 2010 by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for 100 districts across 15 states and union territories, aims to change the attitudes of people in terms of diet patterns, physical activity, and alcohol and tobacco intake. The program has plans to screen 150 million people across the country by April 2012.

A national project to screen school children was rolled out in March 2011 in six districts on a pilot basis for six months. The goal of this program is to identify diabetes prevalence in school children.

According to Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the profile and prevalence statistics of diabetes on a national scale will be available in a year’s time, including data about men and women over 30 years, pregnant women, and children.

Obviously, India needs robust, systematic measures in place and efficient data reporting mechanisms. In addition to prompt action and follow-up from the government at national and state levels, an attitude change on the part of the population is imperative. In the absence of a cooperative partnership between the government and the citizens, India’s diabetes population will likely reach the projected 100 million mark by 2030.


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