India battled a new health threat - swine flu (Flashback 2009)

December 20th, 2009 - 2:19 pm ICT by IANS  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, Dec 20 (IANS) Polio, HIV and malaria plagued the country as usual, but what really challenged India’s public health was a new virus - H1N1 - that caused swine flu. With the mercury dipping, the toll rising and no sign of any indigenous vaccine, the contagious disease seems here to stay.

Here are 10 key health problems the country faced in 2009:

1. Swine flu: Twenty-first century’s first pandemic was in the news throughout the year. Since India reported its first infection from Hyderabad May 16, nearly 24,000 people have already been infected by the virus.

The pandemic, which meant many sleepless nights for Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and health officials, has already claimed around 800 lives and both Indian authorities and WHO believe the surge may continue for over a year from now.

2. Japanese encephalitis (JE): It might not have received much attention, but JE remained a major health challenge for the country throughout the year. The viral infection that is transmitted through mosquito bites has so far killed nearly 600 people mainly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. While the government has failed to contain the disease so far, it aims at launching a house-to-house campaign in Uttar Pradesh to create awareness and set up a physical medical rehabilitation department in Gorakhpur.

3. AIDS: India had reassuring news on the HIV/AIDS front. The country announced that the number of HIV positive people in the country had declined by 400,000 over the last five years and new infections were down by at least 100,000 per year.

Experts believe the Delhi High Court verdict, which decriminalised gay sex, will boost the HIV prevention drive and help in curbing the surge.

4. Polio: In spite of several rounds of immunisation drives, polio continues to pose a major threat. What is bothering the authorities most is that like JE, polio too has been affecting two north Indian states the most. Of the 672 cases reported so far this year, 544 are from Uttar Pradesh and 111 are from Bihar.

5. Dengue: India’s dilemma to manage dengue has continued for decades. The mosquito-born disease has been affecting thousands of people across the country and this year too, the Indian capital saw a surge in cases.

While the country has reported a few thousand infections, Delhi shoulders the burden of nearly 1,200 such cases. At least three people have died due to this fever which spreads via female Aedes mosquitoes.

6. Tuberculosis: TB is one of the leading causes of mortality in India - killing at least two people every three minutes, which amounts to around 1,000 lives lost every day. While India has done relatively well in spreading awareness and extending treatment to far off places, the desired result of reducing the toll is far from comforting.

7. Malaria: India’s public health faces a serious challenge from mosquitoes and here malaria comes to mind first. The diseases affect tens of thousands of people across India though the intensity of the infection is high in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam and parts of northeast India.

The disease is still killing around 1,000 people every year. This year, there is a surge of malaria in Manipur, where over 8,500 people have been found positive and of whom 119 have lost their lives.

8. Child and maternal death: Child health and maternal health are poor cousins in the Indian health system. Over two million children in the country die every year before even reaching their fifth birthday. While a large number of children die during the neo-natal stage, the rest are still dying due to many preventable diseases. According to the health ministry, at least 55 children die for every 1,000 live births in India.

Similarly, 254 women are dying per 100,000 live births, which translates into approximately 67,000 maternal deaths per year.

9. Malnourishment vs obesity: India is a study in health contrast. While around 46 percent of Indian children are stunted, millions of Indians are becoming overweight.

Among the states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa are leading victims of malnourishment. Strangely more literate and rich states like Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are going the obese way.

10. Lifestyle diseases: With economic prosperity has come unhealthy lifestyle and poor eating and working habits. India is increasingly falling in the trap of lifestyle diseases. Cardiovascular diseases, several forms of cancer, diabetes and hypertension silently kill millions every year.

India has already earned the dubious distinction of being a diabetes capital. WHO has also warned that more than 270 million people, mostly from China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, are susceptible to diseases linked to unhealthy lifestyles.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at

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