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Nivedita Khandekar, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, November 19, 2010
Director of Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases at Fortis Hospital and the director of the National Diabetes Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation, Dr Anoop Misra has more than 25 years of teaching, clinical practice and research. The former professor of medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), has published more than 300 scientific papers. He has been awarded the Padma Shree and the Dr BC Roy award, the highest award for medicine in India. He was one of the panelists at the session on Diabetes at the HT Summit on Friday. Dr Misra spoke to Nivedita Khandekar.

India has seen a large scale increase in prevalence of diabetes over the last decade. But people have always harped upon the lack of concrete data/statistics. What are the steps being taken for the most essential data gathering?  

We have already been gathering data here and there for several studies and in some cases, some for the entire country. Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has recently launched a pan-India study on diabetes. Earlier, the lack of data made it difficult to monitor rate of change. Now, even though we know that the prevalence of diabetes is already high, the study will help us know exactly what kind of change has taken place and the rate of change. It will help us know what direction our efforts are going.

The medical fraternity has been warning everybody and anybody who bothered to listen about diabetes emerging as a greatest health hazard in India. What has been the government response? What is being done to sensitise the government for instance, to include screening/awareness for diabetes in the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)?

Till about five years ago, it was very difficult to communicate with the government. Fortunately things have changed for better. The current Health Minister is proactively taking many steps. I think, the government is sensitised enough. What is now needed is taking concrete steps and persistent efforts coupled with strong political will.

We spoke about the government responsibility. Who else needs to put in efforts to reign in the high incidence of diabetes in India?

(Efforts by) the corporate sector is completely missing. We have a lot of young work force at the offices of the MNCs and large corporate houses. They have meetings, eat junk food and basically have a sedentary lifestyle. There is a need for massive workplace innovation and education. The companies can introduce awareness (about diabetes) programmes for the industry, good gyms and most importantly introduce healthy food at workplace. This can definitely check the prevalence of diabetes in the future of India.  

Going from urban areas to the rural, earlier there have been very less cases of diabetes in rural areas compared to today. What is the scenario now?

Traditionally there has been a clear urban-rural divide when it came to diabetes. For instance, in 1975, the prevalence was just one per cent in rural areas compared to 2.5 per cent in urban areas. Circa 2010, we have 5-8 per cent prevalence in rural areas compared to 13-18 per cent in urban areas.

What can be said to be the major cause for this change?

The roads, the highways that pass through rural areas have brought in a lot of changes. All the dhabas lining the highways in the rural areas sell fatty food, deep fried products like chips as the MNCs are now focusing on rural markets after saturating the cities. That way, we can said to have made bad inroads literally. Another reason can be the increasing temptations for the rural masses thanks to media exposure.

Is there any study being carried out to document this change?

Yes, we are soon going to carry out a study about how urbanization affects the areas near highways.

You already have a large body of work, especially in the field of diabetes. What is the next thing on agenda?

The Diabetes Foundation of India is soon going to launch a major awareness programme across the country, which will also have screening for high risk diabetes mellitus.