Polio among slew of diseases to plague India in 2008

By Prashant K. Nanda, IANS

New Delhi : The health outlook for millions of Indians for 2008 may not be all that bright as experts say that the country will continue battling major diseases like AIDS, polio, malaria and tuberculosis besides concerns like infant and maternal mortality.

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With Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss promising better health budget allocation and claiming he will rid the country of all diseases, experts and activists will be on the lookout to see how far his words translate into action.

Here is a list of problems that the country could face in 2008:

Polio: The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the union health ministry were optimistic about curbing the polio virus. But as the year 2007 drew to an end, India continued to be the hot bed of polio with 590 cases as against 676 cases in 2006.

The government will continue to battle the disease with increased focus on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as both the states represent 95 percent of the cases.

“If the situation in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh can improve then we will have a different picture of polio,” Ramadoss told IANS.

“In 2007, Bihar reported 244 cases as against 61 in 2006. The focus in 2008 is definitely on this east Indian state,” a member of the National Polio Surveillance Project said on condition of anonymity.

“Uttar Pradesh showed much improvement with 316 cases in 2007 as against 548 in 2006. But there is no point being complacent in 2008. There is a deep pocket of the virus in western Uttar Pradesh,” he added.

Malaria: In 2008, the union health ministry is planning to introduce a second line drug for malaria, which affects nearly 800,000 people every year in India and claims about 1,000 lives.

The malaria parasite has developed resistance to the chloroquine drug in many parts of Orissa, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and some northeastern states.

“A drug called SP will be given along with artesunate for better impact. I think the price of the combination will be at least 15 times costlier than chloroquine but the state and central governments are planning to subsidise it,” said S.K. Kar, director of the Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC) in Bhubaneswar.

HIV/AIDS: The New Year also saw the introduction of a second line treatment to combat HIV/AIDS, which means the disease has developed resistance.

“Resistance to the first line treatment has been developed in some cases. The second line drug is now available at J.J. Hospital in Mumbai and a government hospital in Tambaram near Chennai,” Ramadoss said.

The second line drug will be given to patients for free and it will cost India over Rs.40,000 per patient per year. The country is home to 2.5 million AIDS patients including 80,000 children below 14 years.

Tuberculosis: With over one million TB cases reported every year in India, the central government is planning to roll out a TB eradication programme along with the polio immunisation drive.

“The Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP) has achieved considerable success but the huge number of fresh cases is worrying. There is a plan to club the TB immunisation drive and the pulse polio programme,” said an official of the union health ministry.

“Let’s see if it can start in 2008. So far as health concerns are concerned our hands are full this year,” he said.

Besides the above problems, the country will battle other major diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases over the year. With 30 million diabetes patients, India is the diabetic capital of the world.

The year 2008 will also see raging debates about infant and maternal mortality rates. India is home to about 21 percent of child mortality cases in the world and malnutrition causes almost 50 percent of these deaths.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), India also accounts for 23 percent of global maternal deaths. India’s maternal mortality rate is over 300 per 100,000 live births.

As part of his drive to eradicate diseases, Ramadoss says he is planning to introduce a health check up programme for schools.

“We are going to introduce a health check up programme for school students. Our department will engage with schools across the country to conduct check ups twice a year. If we detect the symptoms of some disease then we will be able to control it right from the roots,” Ramadoss said.