Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is already known to be India’s leading cause of death. Given a new insight into the demographic trends of those affected by the disease, a recent report has revealed that the condition is becoming increasingly common among women.
The report ‘The Lancet Women and Cardiovascular Disease Commission: reducing the global burden by 2030’ is authored by seventeen leading experts from eleven countries — all of whom are women. The report stated that, although globally the prevalence of CVD among women has been declining with an overall decrease of 4.3 percent since 1990, some of the world’s most populous nations have seen an increase in CVD. These countries include China (with a ten percent increase); Indonesia (with a seven percent increase); and India (with a three percent increase).
Dr K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India who was not involved with the report, told the Indian Express that “unhealthy diets and reduced physical activity [have] become common.
“The health systems are also less efficient in detecting and controlling risk factors like hypertension and diabetes in women. Health seeking behaviours of women are impeded by patriarchal family norms. So treatment is delayed for cardiovascular risk factors and disease, resulting in preventable strokes and heart attacks. We need to address the determinants of risk through health promotion and disease prevention while increasing the responsiveness and efficiency of health systems to provide timely diagnosis and treatment.”
Behavioural and dietary change has been a major driving factor in the rising rates of heart disease in low- and middle-income countries where they previously were thought to be relatively less common as opposed to their wealthier counterparts. As India underwent a period of rapid industrialisation and cocurrent economic growth, life expectancies rose due to the newfound availability of medications and increased access to healthcare infrastructure (although this is far from equally distributed across the various stratas of Indian society). As many jobs shifted from manual labour to office settings, and diets changed from traditional vegetarian diets to more westernised diets high in processed foods, noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease became increasingly common and came to outpace communicable diseases as the country’s predominant causes of death.
As Health Issues India reported back in 2019, “over the last 25 years, India has seen a fifty percent rise in heart disease cases according to doctors at the Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre. Heart disease accounted for 28.1 percent of all deaths in India in 2016, making this statement far from implausible.”
This consistent rise has been observed in both men and women. However, in light of recent evidence that globally CVD rates have, on average, fallen among women, it is clear India must do more to address the situation. Reaching out to women who may otherwise not seek out the services of medical professionals could be a good avenue to reduce rates. In the case of noncommunicable diseases, prevention, and reduction of risk factors, is a tried and tested approach that could save many lives.