South Asians Must Reduce Disease Burdens to Improve Prospects
Poverty, hunger, unsanitary or unsafe conditions and inadequate health care in South Asia's developing nations are exposing their citizens to high risk of a variety of diseases which may impact their intelligence. Every year, World Health Organization reports what it calls "Environmental Burden of Disease" in each country of the world in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) per 1000 people and total number of deaths from diseases ranging from diarrhea and other infectious diseases to heart disease, road traffic injuries and different forms of cancer.
In the range of DALYs/1000 capita from 13 (lowest) to 289 (highest), WHO's latest data indicates that India is at 65 while Pakistan is slightly better at 58. In terms of total number of deaths per year from disease, India stands at 2.7 million deaths while Pakistani death toll is 318, 400 people. Among other South Asian nations, Afghanistan's DALYs/1000 is 255, Bangladesh 64 and Sri Lanka 61. By contrast, the DALYs/1000 figures are 14 for Singapore and 32 for China.
Recent research shows that there are potentially far reaching negative consequences for nations carrying high levels of disease burdens causing lower average intelligence among their current and future generations.
Published by the University of New Mexico and reported by Newsweek, new research shows that there is a link between lower IQs and prevalence of infectious diseases. Comparing data on national “disease burdens” (life years lost due to infectious diseases or DALYs) with average intelligence scores, the authors found a striking inverse correlation—around 67 percent. They also found that the cognitive ability is rising in some countries than in others, and IQ scores have risen as nations develop—a phenomenon known as the “Flynn effect.”
According to the UNM study's author Christopher Eppig and his colleagues, the human brain is the “most costly organ in the human body.” The Newsweek article adds that the "brainpower gobbles up close to 90 percent of a newborn’s energy. It stands to reason, then, that if something interferes with energy intake while the brain is growing, the impact could be serious and longlasting. And for vast swaths of the globe, the biggest threat to a child’s body—and hence brain—is parasitic infection. These illnesses threaten brain development in several ways. They can directly attack live tissue, which the body must then strain to replace. They can invade the digestive tract and block nutritional uptake. They can hijack the body’s cells for their own reproduction. And then there’s the energy diverted to the immune system to fight the infection. Out of all the parasites, the diarrheal ones may be the gravest threat—they can prevent the body from getting any nutrients at all".
Looking at the situation in South Asia, it appears from the WHO data that Pakistan is doing a bit better than India in 12 out of 14 disease groups ranging from diarrhea to heart disease to intentional injuries, and it is equal for the remaining two (Malaria and Asthma).
A detailed WHO report on World Health Statistics for 2010 assesses and compares its member nations on the basis of nine criteria including mortality and burden of disease, cause-specific mortality, selected infectious diseases, health service coverage, risk factors, health workforce-infrastructure, health expenditures and demographic and socioeconomic statistics. It shows that both India and Pakistan have some serious challenges to overcome to have any chance of meeting health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 4, 5 and 6).
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Infectious Diseases Cause Low IQ
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Hunger: India's Growth Story
WHO Report 2010 Blogger Analysis
Syeda Hamida of Indian Planning Commission Says India Worse Than Pakistan and Bangladesh
Global Hunger Index Report 2009
Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India
WRI Report on BOP Housing Market
Food, Clothing and Shelter For All
India's Family Health Survey
Is India a Nutritional Weakling?
Asian Gains in World's Top Universities
South Asia Slipping in Human Development