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India's aging population vulnerable to infectious diseases: report

The Economist Intelligence Unit lamented at the absence of proper healthcare infrastructure and adult vaccination programmes

Sohini Das  |  Ahmedabad 

As a large number of  India's population moves towards the 50 plus bracket, a The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Report 2012 shows that in the absence of proper healthcare infrastructure and adult vaccination programmes, the elderly population in the country are highly vulnerable to infectious diseases.

India’s population is undergoing a dramatic transition, the report says adding that the proportion of older people is expected to rise three- to four-fold in the next 40 years. India's population of people aged 65 and over will be second only to China’s. Even conservative estimates predict that the number of people aged 60 and over will reach 323 million by 2050. By then, people in their fifties are expected to account for 30% of the population, while those in their sixties will make up 20%.

Moreover, as the report points out, chronic disease starts earlier in India. While in developed countries the average age for the onset of non-infectious disease is 55 or older, in India there is premature onset at around the age of 45 years.

To make things worse, total healthcare spending in India was 5% of GDP in 2011, or just $82 per head, the EIU report claims. With no healthcare or retirement benefits for the adult and older population, private health spending accounts for more than 70% of India’s health spending. Most of this is out-of-pocket expenditure.

"India needs comprehensive policy and health system reorientation (from primary health centres to specialty hospitals in geriatric care) to meet the challenges of non-communicable disease and adult health issues related to communicable diseases. But at the moment, there is a complete void," says Perianayagam Arokiasamy, professor in the department of development studies at the Institute for Population Sciences in Bombay.

There is currently no social security system in India. Only retired government employees receive state pensions, and state and private sector health insurance covers just 11% of the population.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that vaccine preventable diseases kill 50,000-70,000 adults each year, compared with 1,000-3,000 children.

Infectious diseases,  still kill about 13 million people a year, mostly in the developing world. Malaria, HIV-Aids and tuberculosis remain the main source of poor health among the 3 billion living on less than $2 a day. In 2010, malaria caused an estimated 655,000 deaths, mostly among African childre.

Older people are more susceptible to yellow fever, pneumonia and influenza, the report says. While immunisation, for example, is one of the most cost-effective preventive measures for older people, adult vaccination remains a low priority as scarce funds go to programmes that center on child and maternal healthcare, it adds.

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First Published: Fri, October 05 2012. 18:25 IST