Heart Attack, Lung Disease, Stroke Are Three Of The Biggest Killers In India


NEW DELHI – Heart attacks, lung obstruction and strokes are the three top causes of death in India, accounting for over one-third of deaths. Along with diabetes and chronic kidney diseases, they make five non-communicable diseases that are part of the top ten causes of death.

Communicable diseases in the top 10 include lower respiratory tract diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia, diarrhea, TB and diseases occurring to prematurely born babies. Road injuries are the tenth most prevalent cause of death. Together, these 10 make up 60% of the 10.3 million deaths in India every year.

The even mix of communicable diseases and non-communicable ones caused by organs failing due to age or lifestyle choices, puts India in the middle of a disease transition seen across the world.

These results are from the Global Burden of Diseases 2015, an estimation of 249 causes of death in 195 countries by an international team of researchers led by the Seattle-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, and published recently in Lancet.

“With improvement in treatment by antibiotics and better understanding, deaths by infectious diseases have declined while sedentary lives, longer lifespans and other lifestyle habits have pushed up the proportion of non-communicable diseases in India,” said Dr Amit Sengupta, an expert affiliated to the Peoples’ Health Movement.

The persistence of three eminently treatable infectious diseases and the lack of care in eliminating preterm baby deaths points to the still lagging healthcare system, as also lack of safe drinking water and sanitation,” he added.

India’s position in the middle of the transition from a poor, healthcare-deficient country to an advanced country is brought out starkly when compared with examples from such countries. In Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita gross domestic product less than one-fifth of India’s, eight of the top ten causes of death are communicable diseases. At the other extreme, Norway, with per capita gross domestic product over ten times that of India, has just one communicable disease — lower respiratory tract infections — among its top ten, with the other nine being non-communicable diseases.

China, which started off from conditions similar to India, has moved much further towards the advanced end of the transition. It too has only one infectious diseases among its top ten causes of death.

Both India and China have road injuries as one of the major causes of death due to large populations and a rapidly growing number of vehicles on the roads. The large number of types of vehicles (from cycles and bullock carts to fast moving cars) also contributes to high number of road injuries.

A striking feature of India’s death-causing diseases profile is that all the non-communicable diseases are increasing while all the infectious diseases are declining compared with a decade ago. Diabetes as a cause of death has grown at a chilling 35% between 2005 and 2015, chronic kidney disease by 21% and heart attacks by 17% even as communicable disease deaths have dropped by 20 to 30% while preterm baby deaths dropped by 40%.