Indians are living longer than before, but illness and disability of a very high order and relatively early death remain severe health care challenges. What should concern health care planners and providers is that India is lagging behind many of its South Asian neighbours, including China, in key health parameters.

Life expectancy at birth in India, that was 58.3 in 1990, has gone up to 65.2 in 2010. However, most of India’s neighbours are ahead on this measure; in 1990, life expectancy was 58.8 years in Nepal, 58.8 in Bhutan, 58.9 in Bangladesh, 62.3 in Pakistan, 69.3 in China, and 72.3 in Sri Lanka. These countries remained ahead of India in 2010. Life expectancy at birth in 2010 was 65.7 years for Pakistan, 69.0 for Bangladesh, 69.2 for Nepal, 69.4 for Bhutan, 75.5 for Sri Lanka, and 75.7 for China.

These are some of the findings from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors 2010 Study (GBD 2010), a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington that released country-specific findings. The findings detail the causes of death and disability for 187 countries around the world.

In terms of age-standardised death rate, per 1,00,000 population, India ranked 155 out of 187 countries in 1990. Bangladesh (at 143), Nepal (at 142), Bhutan (at 141), Pakistan (at 123), China (at 92), and Sri Lanka (at 45), were all ahead of it.

Between 1990 and 2010, there was significant improvement in India in terms of death rates. The number of deaths per 1,00,000 had come down in 20 years from 1,447.43 to 1,096.92. Its neighbours had a mixed record, but they remained ahead. India ranked 139 out 187 countries in terms of death rate in 2010. Pakistan ranked 127, Bangladesh 113, Nepal 108, Bhutan 107, Sri Lanka 68 and China 63.

“Our goal is to help governments and citizens make well-informed decisions about health policies and investments by arming them with information that is up-to-date, comprehensive, and accurate,” said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “With these new ways of making the data understandable, people everywhere for the first time can see the incredible progress being made in health and the daunting challenges that remain,” Dr. Murray added.

The top cause of death in India, as measured in 2010, was ischemic heart disease, followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis, preterm birth complications, self-harm, road injury and diabetes.

Indian women are suffering from other distinct health threats. Suicide rates for women aged 15 to 49 are on the rise. In 1990, deaths of young Indian women, attributable to self-harm, was under 5 per cent, and by 2010 it had reached nearly 10 per cent.

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