The Telegraph
Thursday , September 22 , 2016

Low rank bares India's health home truth

New Delhi, Sept. 21: A global study of health indicators released today has ranked India 143 among 188 countries, underscoring what health experts say are the country's unfinished tasks on multiple fronts - from malaria to safe drinking water and sanitation to air pollution.

India's poor performance on malaria, drinking water, hygiene, air pollution mortality and lack of effective optimal universal health care are among factors that place it lower than Brazil, China, South Africa and Sri Lanka among others, researchers who conducted the study said.

The study, the first assessment of health-related sustainable development goals set by the United Nations last year for the year 2030, provides countries baseline information to track their progress.

The goals include 17 that may be examined through 230 measurable indicators that touch health, food and water, poverty and climate change, among other problems. The study examined 33 of 47 health-related indicators.

"India's scores tell us that steady economic progress does not necessarily translate into better health outcome for all," Panniyammakal Jeemon, associate professor of chronic disease epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India, Delhi, and a co-author of the study, told The Telegraph.

The study, led by scientists at the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington in the US, has ranked Iceland at the top (see chart). The Central African Republic is at list's bottom.

"Our study is a starting point for further investigation on how and why countries are under-performing or performing well compared to the average," said Stephen Lim, professor at IHME. The study was published today in the medical journal The Lancet.

Lim and his colleagues say some results of the study are "contrary to what might have been expected".

The US is ranked 28, driven by relative poor performance on maternal mortality compared to other high-income countries and poor performance on alcohol consumption, overweight children and mortality due to interpersonal violence and self-harm.

The 33 indicators that the researchers relied on to rank the countries for the year 2015 relate to neonatal and maternal mortality, tuberculosis, suicides, alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, deaths linked to air pollution, family planning initiatives, and road traffic injuries, among others.

Some public health experts say India's 143 rank is surprising given its economic growth over the past two decades. India's rank is significantly lower than Brazil's 90, China's 92, and South Africa's 134. The study ranks Sri Lanka 79.

"If Sri Lanka is performing far better than us, we need to understand what that country is doing right and how that might be applied more broadly in the Indian context to improve our own health performance indicators," Jeemon said.

India's scores show significant successes in areas such as providing skilled birth attendants during deliveries, meeting family planning needs, and in addressing certain parasitic diseases. "However, in many other areas, including traditional challenges such as neonatal mortality, stunting among children, malaria and mortality linked to air pollution and hygiene, India has unfinished tasks," he said.

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