Diabetes Epidemic In India: Understanding the Problem

Thirty-five million people suffer from diabetes in India, which is 15% of the global diabetes burden. Projections show that this will increase to 70 million by 2025.

* Diabetes disproportionately affects people of working ages and
accounts for about $ 2.5 billion in annual healthcare costs in India alone (i.e. more than the federal power budget)

* As India has a population of 1.1 billion, 40% of whom are
under-18, investment in the health of India’s future workforce is crucial.

* Poorly-controlled diabetes leads to complications,
amplifying disability and mortality rates and leading to high direct, indirect, and intangible costs.

*If immediate action is not taken,
diabetes threatens India’s emerging economy. Projections show that in the next decade, India will lose $237 billion in national income due to diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Yet policymakers do not yet perceive the epidemic as a priority. No wonder India is called the ‘diabetes capital of the world’ (China has only recently overtaken India in terms of numbers).

What is therefore needed is more diabetes related
infrastructure - doctors, surgeons (see my blog ‘Shortage of vascular surgeons in India costs 80,000 limbs @ http://wp.me/pV7Ii-48 ) and, above all, educators. For starters, the federal government is finally seized of the problem and the world’s biggest diabetes census gets underway in October.The results will certainly be eye-popping.

The government
is expected to spend more resources to contain the epidemic. But given the apathy and bureaucratic red-tape, any effort will be like straws in the wind since the country spends less than 3% of its GDP on healthcare and diabetes is but a minuscule part of the problems India faces.

The problem is compounded by the fact that diabetics in India have to bear the entire cost of managing the disease themselves. And in a country where 80% of the population survives on less that $2 a day, you can see what they’re up against. (The average cost to an insulin-dependent patient is about $100 per month - a large sum by even middle-class standards.)

Preventive measures are, of course, the way forward, but policymakers go by the drug companies’ rule book in diabetes i.e. prescribe after disaster has struck. I’m envious how the diabetic community’s self-help groups (like tudiabetes) are coping with the epidemic. Here in India, we are still struggling to understand the problem…

I have often wondered why there is so much diabetes in India. Do you have any guess? India is actually the only country I’ve traveled to so far since my own diagnosis…such an incredible and beautiful country and heartbreaking at times too.

Not helped at all by an extremely carb-heavy diet. I love paratha, dosai, puri etc but could not eat them as a meal now. I can only manage by making them at home myself and having tiny portions. Luckily I visited India in my pre-dx days. I could not imagine being able to get by there now on low-carb!

Hi Lila, Cortney - I still maintain that the Indian diet is the best thing for diabetics…if you have ‘saada khana’ (meaning simple, home-cooked food) comprising a lentil ‘curry’ (more like a rich soup, sauted vegetables and whole-wheat bubble bread made on a griddle (dal-bhaji-roti in local parlance) with a dash of coriander-mint chutney, youcan’t go wrong on your carb intake…it’s a fallacy to believe that all Indian food is rich in carbs etc…that happens only special occasions which diabetics can avoid…As for India becoming the world’s diabetes capital, there are many reasons…most especially, lifestyle and dietary changes, especially in urban areas…see my post on how tiny Nauru became the world’s fattest nation