India will hold a Diabetes Census – probably the first of its kind – by the end of this year or early next year. The announcement was made by Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Mumbai on Friday, May 14.
The census would essentially mean mandatory testing of blood sugar levels. “We intend to start mandatory testing for diabetes in the age-group of 25-70 years across the country in the next two years. The idea it to figure out the actual number of the population that is actually suffering from diabetes, or is likely to suffer,” said Azad.
The diabetes census will start from cities and will trickle down to villages. Mobile ambulances will go around testing the population. “In certain villages, where ambulances cannot reach, we will take the help of glucometers (device for determining glucose in blood),” said Azad.
Glucometers will cost the government an additional Rs 100 crore. The cost per patient will come to Rs 100. This includes the cost of involving a doctor and sending him to villages, Azad said.
The Centre will seek the help of all state governments to pull off the mammoth initiative. “We will study all three categories of diabetes and decide on the next course of action accordingly,” he said. State governments will help those on the borderline to bring about behavioural changes like changes in food habits and exercising,” he said.
Defeating diabetes would mean controlling a host of ailments that come with it.
Every sixth diabetic in the world is an Indian, making the country the world’s diabetes capital. India has over 50.8 million diabetics out of the world’s 285 million. China with 43.2 million patients comes second, followed by the US where 26.8 million people suffer from the disease.
The disease is affecting more people in the working age group and is proving to be an economic burden, according to the figures released by the International Diabetes Federation. Indeed, Asian countries carry about 60% of the global diabetes burden.
The Lancet reports that prevalence of type 2 diabetes has rapidly increased in native and migrant Asian populations. Diabetes develops at a younger age in Asian populations than in white populations, hence the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease and its complications are also common in young Asian people.
The young age of these populations and the high rates of cardiovascular risk factors seen in Asian people substantially increase lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease. Several distinctive features are apparent in pathogenetic factors for diabetes and their thresholds in Asian populations.
The economic burden due to diabetes at personal, societal, and national levels is huge. National strategies to raise public awareness about the disease and to improve standard of care and implementation of programmes for primary prevention are urgently needed.
Azad’s announcement couldn’t have come a day too soon. However, it would have been better if this exercise was incorporated in the general census already underway as the enumeration would have been more rigorous.
Anyway, even this special diabetes census is most welcome. At least it will give the government what it’s up against for development goals are meaningless unless there’s a healthy population to lend its shoulder to the wheel as it were.