In 2023, India became the most populous nation in the world, with the fifth-largest GDP and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world to boot. However, on the other side of this economic prosperity is the growing income inequality within the population. While 64 new Indian billionaires emerged between 2020 and 2022, India also continues to house the most number of people living in poverty, with almost 230 million people living below the poverty line. Many Indians living in chronic poverty are vulnerable to a wide range of diseases impacting India, especially because the cost of health care is practically prohibitive for the Indian poor.
A significant amount of surface water in India is polluted and unsafe to use. Unfortunately, the unclean water serves as a breeding ground for several waterborne diseases. Approximately 70% of surface water in India is dangerous to drink, including major river channels. Every year, waterborne diseases incur up to $600 million in economic costs in India.
Between 2011 and 2020, India recorded a total of 565 cholera outbreaks, with contaminated water and poor sanitation representing the chief causative factors. The poor hygiene and water conditions of India are also directly related to one of the leading causes of child mortality in the country, which is diarrhea. Around 13% of all deaths of children under the age of 5 are due to diarrheal diseases, making it the third biggest cause of death for children in the aforementioned age group.
Several years earlier in 2014, the government of India recognized the severity of India’s water conditions and launched the Namami Gange project. With a total budget of more than $4 billion, Namami Gange focused on constructing sewage treatment facilities and river-front development in the River Ganges. In 2022, the United Nations (U.N.) recognized the project as one of the Top 10 World Restoration Flagships for restoring over 900 miles of river length so far.
In 2021, India alone accounted for 28% of all TB cases worldwide, and roughly 500,000 Indians died from TB. Moreover, the global rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis is heavily affecting India as well, with 23% of new cases in India having resistance to some kind of drugs.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced his goal to eliminate TB in India by 2025. In addition to this goal, USAID has been providing TB-related aid to India since 1998 and assigned a total budget of $15 million on addressing TB in India in 2022.
Noncommunicable Diseases Impacting India
Between 1990 and 2016, the proportion of NCD-related deaths drastically increased from 37.9% to 61.8%. Cardiovascular diseases have become the most common and deadly NCD in India, along with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), cancer and diabetes.
Long-term day-to-day habits and routines of individuals can cause various NCDs. Smoking, drinking, unhealthy diet and high blood pressure are some of the most common risk factors for NCDs, and many Indians are prone to them. For instance, India is the third biggest producer of tobacco in the world, and the nation itself consumes nearly half of the tobacco production.
NCDs are also closely associated with poverty in India. More than 35% of all Indians do not have any form of health insurance coverage and people usually pay their medical expenses out-of-pocket. A staggering amount of 55 million Indians fell into poverty because of medical expenses in a single year.
In an effort to combat the impact of NCDs on Indians in poverty, the Indian government launched the Ayushman Bharat program back in 2018, a nationwide health protection scheme that aims to provide public health insurance to low-income Indians for free. In 2020, the program received an estimated $1 billion in funding.
The Good News
While India faces pressing issues that demand intervention aimed at ensuring the protection of its citizens from diseases impacting India, ongoing efforts present a reason to hope for a better future. The Indian government is making progress in mitigating major health hazards in the country, while also improving the accessibility of health care for individuals living in poverty.
– Junoh Seo