HEALTH CRISIS IN KERALA
Kerala has long been known for spectacular feats in the field of health and boasting of social development indicators comparable to developed countries. But an alarming increase in cases of killer ailments cancer, kidney and liver diseases is threatening to put its reputation in jeopardy.
About 2,50,000 people in the state undergo cancer treatment with the addition of at least 42,000 every year while liver and kidney transplants are becoming common in super speciality hospitals.
“It is difficult to get a figure of those affected by liver diseases in Kerala . But approximately 150 to 200 liver transplants take place in the state a year. The number of those with liver diseases will be many time more than that,’’ said Dr Mathew Jacob, hepato pancreato billary surgeon of Aster Medcity in Kochi.
While the infrastructure is growing to face this health crisis — specialised hospitals are mushrooming to treat such diseases — experts point out that prevention is the best cure for such killer diseases and that it requires multiple action including some adjustment in lifestyle.
Rising affluence, changes in lifestyle, new food habits, pesticide residues in food products, obesity and rising incidence of diabetes have all contributed in varying degrees to the health crisis, they said.
Experts agree that there is widespread awareness of the diseases and their causes. And the state has wholeheartedly embraced organic farming due to the outcry over the pesticide residue in the vegetables and fruits coming from neighbouring states. Much more needs to be done.
Malayalis’ dislike for physical labour, which has led to a steady stream of migrant labourers from other states into construction and other areas, may well have a role to play. High liquor consumption is a problem in the state, but junk food and obesity could be a bigger issue as only 45% of liver diseases are alcohol related.
“Nearly 55% of the cases are non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases and include men, women and even youngsters,” said Dr Philip Augustine, a leading gastro enterologist and managing director of Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi. “Junk food, lack of exercise, obesity all signs of improved standard of living are triggering the disease,” he said.
The recent deaths of a popular film actor and a director from liver diseases have served to highlight the issue. “If you look at the recent deaths of two celebrities, actor Kalabhavan Mani died from alcoholinduced liver cirrhosis and director Rajesh Pillai from non-alcoholic liver disease. He was obese, weighing nearly 140 kg,’’ Dr Augustine said.
The increase in the incidence of cancer is equally alarming, experts say. According to Sasidharan Nair, managing director, Malappuram Cancer Centre and Research Institute, the estimation that 42,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year, which is based on the cancer registry of Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, might be on the lower side because many private hospital might not be reporting their numbers.
“In some cases the patients themselves may decide not to report the disease,” he said.
Nair, however, said awareness has seen increased “reporting” by patients. Plus modern diagnostic equipment are detecting the disease at a curable stage. “So the survival rate in the state is actually high,” he said.
Lung cancer and oral cancer are most common among men. However, the most striking increase is in the case of breast cancer among women, Nair said.
Nair said there is a need to set up modern diagnostic equipment in every district headquarters to help detect the disease early.
Narayanan Potti, secretary, Cochin Cancer Society, said it will soon introduce a mobile unit to detect breast cancer. It will be “a Volvo bus with mammogram unit, scanning machine, testing centre, changing room, etc.” that will tour different parts of the state, he said.
The mobile unit will have a doctor and two nurses who will help women to undergo the test to detect breast cancer.
“Many resident associations have come forward to tie up with us”, Potti said. “The total cost of the project will be around Rs 1.8 crore,” he said. Higher incidence of diabetes among young population is triggering more kidney ailments in the state.
“The diabetic patients are aware about the impact of the disease on heart and take necessary precautions. They don’t take as much care about the kidneys where the problems develop at a later age,’’ said nephrologist Dr Jayant of Amala Institute of Medical Sciences.
The World Health Organisation has said that around 10% of the world population develop kidney problems. But in Kerala it could be higher as even teenagers get afflicted with kidney diseases due to infection and congenital problems, Dr Jayant said.
The long waiting list for kidney transplants has given rise to thriving illegal trade in kidney. This parallel trade led priest Davis Chiramel to launch the Kidney Federation of India which supports poor patients.