It is comparable to the percentage of deaths being caused due to NCDs — mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes — in non-tribal districts (approximately 63%).
After NCDs, infectious diseases (15%) and injuries (11%) caused maximum deaths according to the ICMR survey. The survey was based on interviews with family members of over 5,000 deceased tribals and was conducted between 2015 to 2018.
Researchers also found that a majority of tribals (70%) died at home. Officials said this reflected the lack of awareness about health problems as well as an acute shortage of healthcare infrastructure in tribal districts of the country.
According to the ICMR survey, which has been published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR), of the 5,292 families of the deceased they spoke to, 70% said their kin died at home, 9% died while undergoing treatment at district hospital, 5% people died at private hospital, 3% died at PHC/CHC/Rural hospital and 2% medical college/cancer hospital. There were about 10% of tribals who couldn’t recollect where the death took place and few others (3%) who said their relative died on the way to the health facility.
Nearly one-fourth of the deceased were not on any treatment for their pre-existing illness, the survey revealed. The rest were being treated at either the district hospital (25%), private hospital (20%), PHC/CHC/rural hospital (19%), Medical college/cancer hospital (9%) or local doctors/tribal healers (13%).
The ICMR survey also revealed that 29% of the deceased tribals had a history of high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Chronic respiratory disease/asthma was present in 17%, stroke (12%), heart diseases (11%), cancer (10%) and diabetes (9%).
“It is a myth that tribal people aren’t as affected by the NCDs, often referred to as lifestyle diseases, as the non-tribals. This study establishes that. It is also clear from the results that many people die at home, which could be due to reduced health-seeking behaviour or the very lack of doctors or hospitals in the region. We need to work on that,” Dr Prashant Mathur, who was part of the ICMR study, told TOI. He also pointed to the fact that with increased urbanisation, even the tribal districts have witnessed a change in lifestyle and food habits.
“Refined foods are available and consumed in tribal districts. Also, the consumption of all forms of tobacco products is quite high there which is linked to a higher incidence of cancer in some of the tribal districts,” Dr Mathur, the director of ICMR’s National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research, added.