Disease Burden and the role of Community Health in India

With Indian communities developing far from any centre of care, the focus on community health becomes of utmost importance.

Diagnostics|Oct.22, 2020

Health has never gotten more attention than it's getting right now in the face of a global pandemic. Every day, we're reminded of the importance of improving our immunity and sanitation so we can continue to be healthy. It's crucial that people living in India, who make up 18% of the world's population, understand the country's role in the global disease burden. So what are the health challenges we face today and how should we address them?

Even as annual GDP has increased over the last three decades, socioeconomic inequality has persisted, according to Asian Politics, and the burden of disease has shifted — more than half (61%) of deaths in the country are now due to non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to The Lancet's 2017 study on global disease burden.

While the burden from communicable diseases such as diarrhoea, tuberculosis, lower respiratory infections like flu and neonatal disorders has reduced, it still remains high enough to cause concern. At the same time, health problems like diabetes and stroke are increasing. This leaves India with a dual challenge.

The Impact on the Community

Communicable diseases remain a major threat to public health mainly because of how quickly they can spread in the community without proper awareness and containment. Factors like climate change and rapidly developing microbial resistance also play a role. However, public health funding and government interventions tend to focus on such diseases, meaning that effective prevention or treatment is often easier to access.

On the other hand, non-communicable diseases are often chronic and expensive, so ongoing treatment can quickly drain household resources. They can alter personal and family lifestyles over the long term.

For a country like India where so many communities develop far from any centre of care, the focus on community health to address diseases is of utmost importance. Ensuring that services reach everyone in a community requires a greater focus on facilities like mobile health centres that can provide testing facilities and medication without requiring people to travel long distances. If these measures are in place, individuals can educate and better serve the more vulnerable among them.

Contributing to Community Health

Improving community health doesn't need to be a herculean task. Small steps can be very helpful. As a society, we spend a large amount of our time working, and making sure workplaces have wellness initiatives for both in-office and remote employees can lead to people practicing healthier habits outside of work as well. Employers, particularly those that employ members of the local community, can focus on options like providing healthier food options or organizing group physical activities.

Another small step toward better health is changing the way we get around. Air pollution is linked to a variety of health concerns, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a significant public health challenge all over the world. The Indian Express reports that India carries 32% of the global disease burden of respiratory illness, and pollution is the biggest contributing factor. By choosing to walk or bike, you can reduce carbon emissions and get daily exercise.

Sometimes improving community health requires more than small steps — it requires community advocates who can motivate those around them to care for one another. Because of their reduced access to health infrastructure, low-income communities carry the majority of the disease burden in India.

For these communities, organizations like the Self Employed Women's Association, known as SEWA, are an important part of addressing these gaps in care, especially for women, who remain more vulnerable to diseases. They organise interactive awareness sessions in communities with low levels of education to promote better health practices, which can lower the amount of health emergencies and diseases. In these sessions, women are told how to identify health problems and connected with centres for treatment. SEWA also brings healthcare services directly to communities by organising health camps and free diagnostic services.

The global disease burden can feel overwhelming, but by supporting community health, you can make sure that you and those around you are leading healthy lifestyles.


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