Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Indians add four more years to their life in the first decade of the new millennium: Average life expectancy at birth for Indians goes up

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The first decade of the new millennium may have been marred by largescale corruption, scams, emergence of new pathogens and diseases, and incidents of violence, but what many have not noticed is that Indians have silently added four more years to their life. A child born in 2010 in India has an average life expectancy at birth of 65 years. This is in contrast to the average life expectancy at birth of 61 years in 2000.
This is good news particularly for city scientists, who are searching for clues to longevity and checking the process of ageing. A team of researchers at the University of Hyderabad led by Prof Kalluri Subba Rao has been doing research on the process of ageing, at genetic, molecular, clinical, biochemical
and behavioural levels.
While the Centre for Research and Education in Ageing (CREA) in the University of Hyderabad may take a few more years to unravel the mystery behind ageing and discovering the road to longevity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States in its latest report on 10 major global achievements on the health front during 2000-2010 states that if the past trends continue, the average life expectancy at birth may rise to 73 years by 2025.
"Worldwide, a child born in 1955 had an average life expectancy at birth of only 48 years. By 2000, the average life expectancy at birth had increased to 66 years and 68 by 2010," it points out, adding that these improvements in longevity have resulted from improved living conditions overall, advances in medical science, and a number of population-level interventions.
But health experts here feel that much need to be done on the health and sanitation front if India has to equal the world average. The global average life expectancy at birth is 68 years while it just 65 years for Indians. Though Indians have added four more years to their life span on an average, they are still three years behind the world average.
Interestingly, India is fast catching up with the world if the trends in the last 10 years are any indication. While the global average life expectancy at birth went up by two years from 66 to 68 years between 2000 and 2010, in India it increased by four years from 61 to 65 years.
While Indian women have added four years to their life span in the first decade of the new millennium, Indian men had to be content with just three years. Thus an Indian boy born in 2010 has now an average life expectancy at birth of 63 years, up from 60 years in 2000. For an Indian girl, it is 66 years, up from 62 years.
That the average life span in India has increased to 65 years is a reflection of improvement in health care services in the country, says Dr Aftab Ahmed, senior physician, Apollo Hospitals, Secunderabad. "Today we have good and accessible medical care which is very effective in preventing as well as controlling and curing diseases. Individually, good lifestyle, healthy food habits, exercise, avoiding smoking, safe sex and preventive health checks had
helped Indians to lead a healthier and longer life," he adds.
The reduction in neonatal mortality rate has also helped Indians to move towards longevity. The neonatal mortality rate per 1000 live births was 43 in 2000 and it came down to 34 in 2010. A reduction of nine neonatal deaths per 1000 live births will make a huge impact on the over all health scenario in the country, points out social activist VS Narayana, but emphasises the need for further reduction in the neonatal mortality rate.
Stating that the search to extend the life and live longer or to live forever is one of the dreams of man, Suneetha Sapur, nutritionist and director of Akshaya Foundation, says better health care, immunisation and improved nutrition have helped to reduce the child mortality and morbidity in the population there by extending the life span in India.
"We no longer see the severe malnutrition like Kwashiorkor and marasmas except in very rare incidence. Also severe deficiencies of vitamin A like karatomalcia and pellagra have more or less disappeared. But the major challenge before us now is the new epidemic of lifestyle ailments like heart diseases, hypertension, cancers and diabetes, which are expected to account for 75 per cent of all deaths by 2030," she warns.
According to Prof Subba Rao, when India became free the life expectancy at birth was around 40 years. Then, old age was not a problem. The average life expectancy of an Indian today is 65 years and this figure is fast improving. "Never before have so many people lived for so many years, thanks to the amazing progress made in medical and biological research. Today India has nearly 117 million people over 60 years," he says emphasising the need for full-fledged research on the process of ageing.
Health experts in the city are also digging into the old Ayurveda texts to find out if there's any secret health formula that could improve the health of people and make them live longer. Since Ayurveda is considered as a medical science of rejuvenation, further research on herbs and formulations is expected to provide clues on longevity.
One of the herbs, for instance, attributed to long life is amla (goose berry). "This could be due to the vitamin C content and flavonoids, which are important antioxidants. A diet rich in antioxidants prevent the damage of the cell by free radicals and also provide protection against age-related cell degeneration. Low calorie and high antioxidant diet is the key for healthy and long life," said Suneetha.

Some Facts

* Hyderabad is one of the centres involved in research on longevity and the
process of ageing.

* The average life expectancy at birth in India at Independence was about 40
years. In the last six decades, Indian have added 26 years to their life span,
including four years in the last 10 years. In 1990 the average life span for men was 57 
and women was 58. By 2000, it went up to 60 years for men and 62 for women. Today, it is 
63 for men and 66 years for women. The average works out to 65 years.

* Revalidation of Rasayana therapy in Ayurveda may hold the key to long
and healthier life.

* Experts feel that the process of ageing can be stopped and reversed if
studies at molecular and cellular level prove successful.

* Factors like checking use of tobacco and improving road safety will add to
the average life expectancy.

* According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reduction in
child mortality and vaccine preventable diseases, access to safe water and
sanitation and prevention and control of malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and
neglected tropical diseases are major health achievements in the last 10 years.

* India still has quite a high maternal mortality ratio, infant and child
mortality rate and high number of road accidental deaths. If they are brought
down further, the quality of life in the country will improve a lot.

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