Breaking a myth that cardiovascular diseases are an urban lifestyle phenomenon, a three-year-long study in 45 villages of Andhra Pradesh has revealed that heart-related problems are the largest killer in rural areas too.
The study by five leading institutes led by the Byrraju Foundation, an NGO, has found ample evidence to prove that cardiovascular diseases remain the biggest killer in villages too.
The Centre for Chronic Disease Control (CCDC), the CARE Foundation in India, the George Institute for International Health and the University of Queensland in Australia also participated in the study.
The Andhra Pradesh Rural Health Initiative (APRHI) launched by the five in 2003 has proved that "cardiovascular diseases are responsible for an unexpectedly large proportion of all deaths.
Contrary to widely held beliefs, communicable diseases such as malaria and childhood infections were responsible for relatively few deaths," the joint study states.
The report is based on a pilot study of 180,162 people in 45 villages in Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The APRHI has worked to define the main health problems in the study region and to develop novel ways of dealing with them.
"The high mortality due to cardiovascular problems in rural Andhra Pradesh was found to be a result of a combination of life-style problems including smoking, wrong diet consisting of high salt, high oil and high sugar intake along with low-fibre diet including fruits and vegetables," Rohina Joshi, research fellow with George Institute for International Health, told IANS.
"This has led to setting up of an intervention programme for trying to identify the problem, particularly life-style identification and prescription by physician to see how recurrence of a second heart attack," said Joshi, who is doing research on mortality surveillance system.
During the yearlong intervention programme, the effort of the group would be to provide medical help to stall progress of the health problem and prevent any further heart attacks.
So far, the attempt is to provide intervention through the primary health care model. Depending on the success of the programme, it will be rolled out in other parts of the country with modifications according to specific requirements, said Joshi.
According to a recent WHO report, cardiovascular diseases in India have claimed more than 250 lives per 100,000 deaths in the country.
Bruce Neal of The George Institute for International Health said: "Having current and reliable data about causes of death and disease is a prerequisite for the best use of scarce health care resources."
The experts said due to lack of medical facilities in rural areas the real cause of the health problems went undetected and led to more deaths unlike in urban areas.
"As epidemics of heart attack, stroke, depression and diabetes are only increasing, we need to understand the vast majority of people in India have little or no access to those treatments proven to prevent these conditions," said K. Srinath Reddy, head of cardiology department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and CCDC Director.
"We found that in all age groups, 32 percent of deaths were due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. The possibility of prevalence of these diseases in varying proportions in other rural regions of India cannot be ruled out," said Reddy.