Bitter truth

With the largest number of diabetics in the world and the numbers poised to surge in the coming years, India is staring at a serious health crisis. According to the annual report of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), India has 50.8 million diabetics, followed by China and the United States with 43.2 million and 26.8 million cases, respectively. Seven per cent of India’s population will be diabetic by 2010 and this is expected to increase to 8.4 per cent by 2030. Diabetes is a silent killer. What compounds its impact is that it makes a patient vulnerable to problems like blindness, kidney problems, heart ailments, amputations and so on. It is the fourth leading cause of death by disease worldwide and one person dies from diabetes-related causes every 10 seconds. It has serious economic implications as well, for the individual, his family, the health system and the country. Studies show that the average patient uses up 70 per cent of his savings on treatment. Apart from the direct costs involved there are indirect costs resulting from loss of days of work.

Type-II diabetes is preventable. Stress, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity and consumption of unhealthy foods makes a person prone to diabetes. These should be avoided to keep the disease at bay. But there is a shocking lack of awareness of the disease, its causes and treatment even among the educated. Around 25 per cent of Indians are said to be unaware of a condition called diabetes, while 60 per cent do not know what it really means prior to being diagnosed with it. Had they known its seriousness and the costs involved, perhaps they would have taken steps to prevent it. Public awareness of diabetes needs to be improved.

Treatment of diabetes has improved dramatically in recent years providing hope to diabetics across the world. However, treatment remains expensive and beyond the reach of millions. Thus, while medical technology holds out hope, the costs snuff out any optimism. Insurance schemes for diabetics are now available in India. But the conditions they impose, negate the benefits. In most cases, diabetics don’t get covered as their problem is linked to a pre-existing illness. Besides, how many in this country can afford the high premiums, anyway? Diabetes has become an epidemic. It is time the government woke up to the seriousness of the crisis in the country.

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