Increase in life expectancy more in women in India

A Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 published today (December 18) in the journal The Lancet points out that in the case of India, the life expectancy at birth during the period 1990 to 2013 had increased for both men and women.

In the case of men, the increase in life expectancy was from 57.3 to 64.2 years and in the case of women, it was from 58.2 to 68.5 years between 1990 and 2013. The reduction in death rate was seen both in adults and children. Though the death rate per year witnessed a drop both in adults and children, it was more in the case of children than adults. At 3.7 per cent, the death rate reduction per year in children was much more than that of adults, which was at 1.3 per cent.

According to the report, ischemic heart disease was the number one cause of death in India in 2013. The other leading causes (in descending order) were lower respiratory track infections, tuberculosis, neonatal encephalitis, preterm birth complications, diarrhoea, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), suicide, and finally road injuries.

“COPD is caused due to lung damage. Smoking is one of the causes of COPD. But in the case of women in India, COPD is more due to indoor pollution than smoking. Even TB could be an important cause,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Director of the Chennai-based National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) told this Correspondent. While TB is the number three cause, diarrhoea is way down at the sixth position. Referring to this, Dr. Swaminathan said: “That shows that interventions for diarrhoea have really worked and reduced the number of deaths, while in the case of TB the interventions have been less effective in reducing deaths. This is despite RNTCP being effective and bringing about 20 per cent reduction in TB deaths in India.”Across the world, deaths from diarrhoeal diseases between 2000 and 2013 fell by about 31 per cent.

Though there has been much reduction in the number of deaths in under-five children across the world and in India, lower respiratory track infections and diarrhoea are two of the three causes seen in India. But other causes like neonatal encephalitis and preterm birth complications that affect children continue to be major causes of death in India. Globally, neonatal deaths fell significantly since 2000.

Half of all suicide deaths that occur in the world are in India and China. “Suicide is a major and growing public health problem in India,” notes a release. What is of great concern is that though India and China account for half of global suicide deaths, the number of suicides was reducing “rapidly” in China while it was “rising” in India during the period 1990-2013. “Both countries have undergone economic growth and urbanisation, a key factor in limiting access to lethal pesticides, a common method of suicide by poisoning in both countries. Therefore, as yet unexplained reasons must exist for the divergence between the two countries,” the paper notes.

What becomes abundantly clear is that ischemic heart disease is the only lifestyle disease in the top ten causes of deaths in India. This is in complete variance with what is seen in the developed countries.

Published in The Hindu on December 18, 2014