Non-communicable diseases: A threat to India’s economic growth

This article originally appeared on Businessworld.

It’s heartening to see that India’s election discourse has largely been focused more on growth and jobs than just on the usual issues of caste and community. However, if the next government is serious about economic growth, it will need to combat a major new threat to India’s progress.

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India is facing a tsunami of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and diabetes, which will not only devastate the lives of millions, but also undermine GDP growth. Research has shown India stands to lose $6.2 trillion by 2030 due to NCDs, nearly 3.5 times the current GDP.

NCDs in India already account for about 17 per cent of global deaths. What’s more, NCDs are striking at a younger age — the average age at onset of diabetes in India, for instance, is 51 years vs. 58 in the US. According to some reports, almost one in eight stroke victims are under 40. According to the Heart Foundation, CVDs accounted for the loss of 11 million potentially productive years among Indians in 2010.

Amid this grim landscape, India has a narrow window of opportunity due to the fact that its healthcare ecosystems — the roles of government, private players, technology and regulations — are still evolving, while new delivery investments and service models are being explored. Also, the idea of healthy living is gaining traction, at least in urban areas.

Tackling NCDs is an enormous task, but so was eradicating polio or curbing HIV’s spread — both of which India has done successfully. The benefits of controlling NCDs could be substantial: It is estimated that if the CVD mortality rate declines by 1 per cent per annum it can increase per capita income by 87 per cent by 2030.

Based on our work with healthcare players in India and abroad, we suggest a four-pronged approach to tackle NCDs.

Read the full article at Businessworld