Covid-19 deaths fuelled by ‘perfect storm’ of chronic illnesses: Study
The latest findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study published in The Lancet provide new insights on how well countries were prepared in terms of underlying health for the Covid-19 pandemic, and set out the scale of the challenge to protect against new pandemic threats.Updated: Oct 16, 2020, 19:45 IST
The interaction of Covid-19 with the continued global rise in chronic illnesses and related risk factors such as obesity, high blood sugar and outdoor air pollution over the past 30 years has created a perfect storm, fuelling virus-related deaths in India and elsewhere, a new global study published on Friday says.
The latest findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study published in The Lancet provide new insights on how well countries were prepared in terms of underlying health for the Covid-19 pandemic, and set out the scale of the challenge to protect against new pandemic threats.
The study’s key findings on India include the country gaining more than a decade of life expectancy since 1990, rising from 59.6 years to 70.8 years in 2019, but there are wide inequalities between states, ranging from 77.3 years in Kerala to 66.9 years in Uttar Pradesh.
The increase in healthy life expectancy (life without illness) in India, which was 60.5 years in 2019, has not been as dramatic as the growth of life expectancy, so people are living more years with illness and disability, it says.
The largest contributors to increasing health loss in India over the last 30 years, it adds, were ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, stroke, and a group of musculoskeletal disorders.
The study says: “In 2019, the top-5 risk factors for death in India were air pollution (contributing to an estimated 1.67 million deaths), high blood pressure (1.47 million), tobacco use (1.23 million), poor diet (1.18 million), and high blood sugar (1.12 million)”.
“Since 1990, India has made substantial gains in health, but child and maternal malnutrition is still the number-one risk factor for illness and death in India, contributing to more than 20% of the total disease burden in several states in northern India (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)”.
“High blood pressure is the third leading risk factor (after air pollution), responsible for 10-20% of all health loss in eight states in India, primarily in the south”, it adds.
According to the study authors, the promise of disease prevention through government actions or incentives that enable healthier behaviours and access to health-care resources is not being realised around the world.
“Most of these risk factors are preventable and treatable, and tackling them will bring huge social and economic benefits. We are failing to change unhealthy behaviours, particularly those related to diet quality, caloric intake, and physical activity, in part due to inadequate policy attention and funding for public health and behavioural research”, says Christopher Murray of the University of Washington, who led the research.
Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, adds: “The syndemic nature of the threat we face demands that we not only treat each affliction, but also urgently address the underlying social inequalities that shape them—poverty, housing, education, and race, which are all powerful determinants of health.”
“Covid-19 is an acute-on-chronic health emergency. And the chronicity of the present crisis is being ignored at our future peril. Non-communicable diseases have played a critical role in driving the more than 1 million deaths caused by Covid-19 to date, and will continue to shape health in every country after the pandemic subsides.”