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Covid poses risk to healthy Indian lives: WHO report

The average life expectancy in India is 68.8 years, with women living close to three years longer than men. Life expectancy is 70.3 years for women in India, and 67.4 years for men, said the 2020 World Health Statistics report.

Updated: May 14, 2020 00:05 IST

By Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times New Delhi

People are screened for health as they stand in queues to buy liquor outside a wine store during a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of new coronavirus in New Delhi. (AP)

Indians lose a decade of healthy life to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancers, and heart and lung diseases, and the threat to a healthy life will be compounded by of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, said the World Health Organization (WHO)’s annual report card of the global health status released on Wednesday.

The average life expectancy in India is 68.8 years, with women living close to three years longer than men. Life expectancy is 70.3 years for women in India, and 67.4 years for men, said the 2020 World Health Statistics report.

The healthy life expectancy in India is 59.3 years, and lags far behind developed nations. It’s similar for women and men, with women living 59.9 years compared to 58.7 years for men. The healthy life expectancy is the highest in Japan, with people living 74.2 years of disease free life. It’s also high in France, Italy, Norway, South Korea and Australia, where people live a healthy between 73 years and 73.5 years.

The biggest gains in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy were among low-income countries, where life expectancy rose by 11 years between 2000 and 2016 because of improved access to services to prevent and treat infections such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, said the WHO report.

The deaths and economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are threatening to derail the health gains and the progress made towards achieving global development goals, the report said.

“The good news is that people around the world are living longer and healthier lives. The bad news is the rate of progress is too slow to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and will be further thrown off track by Covid-19,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, WHO.

The adolescent birth rate (births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years) in India was still high at 10.7, with around 72% women in the reproductive age having access to modern methods of contraception.

“It is disappointing to see India among the bottom of all countries in context of healthy life expectancy, which is now primarily driven by non-communciable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, cancers, heart and lung disease, and stroke. The Covid-19 pandemic will bring this down further as our recent research shows that poor control of diabetes and its many complications will rise in the future,” said Dr Anoop Mishra, chairman of Fortis Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol, New Delhi.

The report said there is an overall shortage of services within and outside the health system to prevent and treat NCDs. In 2016, 70% all deaths worldwide were attributable to NCDs, with 85% of them occurring in low and middle-income countries. Two in three deaths in India are from NCDs.

“One of the key lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic is that we must invest in data and health information systems, as part of our overall public health capacity, before a crisis strikes. To emerge from this crisis stronger, we must be able to monitor progress with real-time, reliable and actionable data,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.

Strengthening country capacity for data and information requires collaboration across governmental and non-governmental institutions, including ministries of health and finance, national statistics offices, offices of the registrar general, local and regional government, and academia.

“We need health systems that have equally good outreach in rural and urban areas, and that’s still work in progress in India. It takes several years for the data to become reliable as there is lacunae in data collection for the first five to seven years before systems become stable enough. Unless data collection is stable, the numbers are not reliable, particularly with emerging infections like Covid-19,” said Dr V Ramana Dhara, professor at Indian Institute of Public Health-Hyderabad.

The WHO report said between one-third and half the world’s population was able to obtain essential health services in 2017, with 40% of all countries reporting less than 10 doctors per 10,000 people. Over 55% of countries have fewer than 40 nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 people, said the report.

According to the health ministry, India has a doctor-population ratio of 1:1,457 and Nurse-population ratio of 1:675.


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