Terming heart disease a major challenge for a developing nation like India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a conference on Saturday said the country had lost 9.2 million potentially productive years of life because of the lifestyle disease.

“It has been estimated that India lost about 9.2 million potentially productive years of life in 2000, due to premature deaths caused by cardiovascular disease in the age group of 35-64 years,” Mr. Singh said while addressing a conference of heart surgeons here.

According to studies, India’s potentially productive years of life loss (the number of working years a country is deprived of when a citizen dies before the age of retirement) due to heart disease was 9.2 million years in 2000, in comparison to 6.6 million years in China and 1.6 million years in the US. In 2030, India’s figure is expected to be 17.9 million years, compared to 10.4 million for China and 1.9 million for the US.

“This poses a major health problem in our country. There is growing consensus within the medical fraternity that urgent measures need to be taken both from the preventive point of view as well as in relation to cardiac surgical care. The primary long-term strategy to cope with heart and blood vessel diseases should clearly be preventive in nature. We know that many of these diseases can be prevented or at least delayed to a very late age,” the prime minister said.

He said while preventive efforts are of paramount importance, there will still be many who will need to undergo surgery for correction of their heart or blood vessel diseases.

“Whether it is a little infant who needs a hole in the heart closed or a teenager or an adult who needs his blocked blood vessels bypassed, it is the prowess of the surgeon that makes the difference often between life and death.

“Cardiac surgery is becoming more and more specialised and mechanised ...That cannot, however, take away from the skills of the individual surgeon or the collective commitment of the surgical team which are the vital ingredients of surgical success. Perhaps even more important is the compassion of a caring surgeon that can never be replicated by a robot.”

The prime minister also reiterated his government's commitment to increase the human resource in the health sector.

“I do recognize that our ambitious plans for the health sector cannot be realised unless there is a substantial expansion in the number of health care professionals. We are working on this aspect and the government will facilitate a rapid expansion of the human resource infrastructure in the health sector.”