By Rhythma Kaul
India’s numbers are dismal despite it being mandatory under the law to register each death, like it is for registering the birth of a child with the local civic agency within 21 days.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), measuring how many people die each year and why they died is one of the most important means – along with gauging how diseases and injuries are affecting people – for assessing the effectiveness of a country’s health system.
It is imperative to know why people die as the statistics help authorities determine their focus for public health actions.
According to WHO, a country where deaths from heart disease and diabetes rapidly rise over a period of a few years, for example, has a strong interest in starting a vigorous programme to encourage lifestyles to help prevent these illnesses.
India though has launched Universal Screening for Non-Communicable Diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and certain types of cancer— breast, cervix and oral, there is a huge gap in terms of data to know the exact disease burden in the country.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has had been contemplating for a while to begin an exhaustive cause-of-death study, but according to the officials at the council, it is still ‘too early’ to talk about.
A paper by Dr Prabhat Jha and others that was published online in PLOS Medicine, emphasized on the need for India and other developing countries to urgently quantify the causes of death.
“They also need better epidemiological evidence about the relevance of physical (such as blood pressure and obesity), behavioral (such as smoking, alcohol, HIV-1 risk taking, and immunization history), and biological (such as blood lipids and gene polymorphisms) measurements to the development of disease in individuals or disease rates in populations,” the paper read.
Dr Jha has been a part of Million Death Study in India to ascertain the causes of death through a well-validated verbal autopsy.
High-income countries have systems in place for collecting information on causes of death in the population. Many low- and middle-income countries do not have such systems, and the numbers of deaths from specific causes have to be estimated from incomplete data.
Improvements in producing high quality cause-of-death data are crucial for improving health and reducing preventable deaths in the long run.
Countries that don’t know how their people are dying
(Percentage of total deaths registered)
*36%: Saudi Arabia
*65%: Jordan, Kuwait
*66%: United Arab Emirates
Where India stands in the South East Asia Region
*93%: Sir Lanka
(Source: World Health Statistics Report 2017)
Source: Hindustan Times