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The Insidious Enemy

If not addressed soon, the growing burden of non-communicable diseases will take a heavy toll on people, productivity & growth

The Insidious Enemy

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India stands tall for its unbridled potential and is well poised to be a leading economy very soon. However, an insidious enemy is lurking - the looming threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - and we need to work together to strike it down.

A report by the World Health Organization estimates that cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and other NCDs account for 60 per cent of all deaths in India. Moreover, NCDs account for about 40 per cent of all hospital stays and roughly 35 per cent of all recorded outpatient visits. Also, 20 per cent women and 27 per cent men aged between 30 and 70 also run the risk of dying from one of the four major NCDs. According to a World Economic Forum study, the world would spend $30 trillion by 2030 to combat NCDs, and India's share would be $4.8 trillion.

India must get its act together, and an immediate imperative is to rapidly heighten people's awareness, besides identifying and managing diabetes, coronary diseases and all types of cancer. It is important to note that these diseases affect not only health but also productivity and economic growth. Last year, under the landmark Ayushman Bharat Yojana, the government announced that 1,50,000 primary health centres would be converted into health and wellness centres as early detection is the key to managing chronic diseases and saving lives. Staying diabetes-free is prudent, and likewise, most cancers can be conquered if detected early. Hence, mandating regular health screening for everyone aged above 25 could be considered by the government.

As a clinician, I have witnessed the devastating impact of such diseases, and ever since, I have been passionately committed to preventive healthcare. Forty years ago, we had introduced a 'master health check' even before the launch of our first hospital in Madras (now Chennai); it was an annual screening to detect diseases early on and assess risk factors. Since then, Apollo has screened over 30 million individuals, and the government has honoured this achievement with a commemorative postal stamp. However, we are aware of the long road ahead.

Health is an individual and a collective responsibility. Therefore, the way to healthy living must be taught and inculcated in school programmes. For instance, Apollo SHINE works with academic institutions and provides health information to students and faculties.

Corporate India should also embrace preventive healthcare like it is another fiscal responsibility and take focussed steps to ensure that every employee undergoes regular health checks. This should also include their families and loved ones. At Apollo, we have initiated a programme wherein preventive health screening is being done for each of our 85,000 employees and also for their families and then followed up for another two years. We believe that in the long run, it will pay excellent dividends in terms of productivity and hope other organisations emulate our model.

Every individual should understand, appreciate and cherish his/her health and well-being. A shift in the mindset is required for nurturing good health instead of just battling a disease as close to 90 per cent of NCDs are preventable.

Currently, NCDs are equally prevalent across rural and urban India. By focussing on prevention, early detection and an integrated approach to healthcare, the incidence of NCDs can be brought down. Due to concerted efforts, Apollo's Total Health Foundation has witnessed success in Thavanampalle Mandal (in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh), achieving a 20 per cent decrease in incidence of NCDs in 36 months. This reaffirms the need to live a healthy life and be mindful of NCDs. Empowerment of the community through effective health education and use of trained public health personnel along with the provision for community insurance will help in controlling the growing prevalence of NCDs and battling the sinister enemy.

The writer is Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group

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