ICMR chief: Need protocols to tackle non-communicable diseases

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018

Sowmya Swaminathan, Director-General, Indian Council of Medical Research

India is home to about 70 million people living with diabetes

A standardised approach is needed to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs), possibly on similar lines as the government programme to control tuberculosis, says Sowmya Swaminathan, Director-General, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Health workers, down to the district level, need to be trained to monitor blood pressure, sugar, etc, and refer to the next higher authority, only if needed, she told BusinessLine. The next couple of years will see much more work in bringing NCDS into the public health arena, she said, against the backdrop of World Diabetes Day on Tuesday. ICMR is already working with about five States on monitoring hypertension, a key risk factor in heart diseases and stroke, she said.

The World Health Organisation defines NCDs as chronic diseases that don’t get passed on from person to person. And key among them are cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. India is home to about 70 million people living with diabetes.


States have in the past undertaken pilot programmes to screen for diabetes, but the initiatives hit a roadblock when it came to follow-up action and treatment. On tackling this, she said a decentralised and standardised approach will help in diagnosis, treatment and follow-ups.

There are plans to focus on certain priority districts, she said, with different States taking different approaches towards screening. While governments have understood the disease burden facing the country, what is not keeping pace is the treatment, she observed, specially since it involves lifetime management.

The push to tackle NCDs is now coming from the Prime Minister’s Office, including a call for an inter-ministerial plan, she said. With the country seeing incidences of malnutrition and undernutrition, specially among the poor and rural citizens, more ministries such as Agriculture and Civil Supplies are getting involved in plans to distribute the right kind of food to those who need it, she said.

State disease burden

ICMR has in a joint effort with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the Health Ministry brought out the first report on India State-level Disease Burden Initiative (ISDBI). The report was based on epidemiological data between 1990 and 2016.

Referring to the report’s findings, diabetologist V Mohan, Chairman, Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, pointed out that NCDs have surpassed communicable diseases in every State, a ground reality very different from 1990. Presently, diabetes is being seen among poor people and in rural areas, he said.

“We seem to be paying the price for economic growth, with more mechanisation bringing less activity, for instance,” he said, adding that more attention needs to be paid to setting up parks and promoting better nutritional foods and a modified lifestyle.

“The contribution of NCDs to health loss, fuelled by unhealthy diets, high blood pressure, blood sugar and overweight, has doubled in India over the past two decades,” said PHFI President Srinath Reddy, adding that the report will help design more refined strategies to control them.

Published on November 14, 2017

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