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Last week, I attended the SAP India Forum for Public Service one trend that was easily perceptible during the healthcare panel discussions was the epidemic and scare of chronic diseases or non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in rural India and the scarce resources available to counter them. Chronic disease is a long-lasting condition that can be managed, prevented or controlled but not cured. To simplify things, the WHO defines NCDs as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

But chronic diseases are not only perverse in rural India, their effects are pandemic and they are the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. A World Bank report shows that they are expected to cause 73% of all deaths and 60% of all the global burden of diseases by 2020. Disease rates from these conditions are accelerating globally, advancing across every region and pervading all socioeconomic classes. Chronic diseases are diminishing the world populations not with a bang but with a whimper.

The problems are amplified by lack of skilled medical practitioners, aging populations and absence of long-term health improvement programs both in developed and developing countries. But all hope is not lost. Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable and most of them can be effectively controlled.

The need of the hour is an integrated chronic disease prevention and control mechanism. An integrated approach that responds not only to the need of intervention on major common risk factors with the aim of reducing premature mortality and morbidity of chronic NCDs, but also the need to integrate primary, secondary and tertiary prevention, health promotion, and related programs across sectors and different disciplines. Interactive models for medical professionals and chronically ill patients that will help the doctors manage patients from remote locations, keep tabs on their medical usage and follow-up proactively with them.

The tools can ensure best outcomes only if the public in general is ready to change their lifestyle, to walk an extra mile, to regularly check their sugar intake and to keep up their regular doctor’s appointment, etc. – all for a salubrious tomorrow. The resources are shrinking, costs expanding and to rephrase what one of the dignitaries rightly said in the discussion – the governments and the providers can only manage so much, the consumers need to cooperate to the cause.

Let’s not allow the controllable to spiral out of control!

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