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Rheumatic Diseases Can Reduce Lifespan, Need to Improve Awareness & Treatment: Experts at Rheumatology Week

  • Rheumatic diseases can shorten the lifespan of a woman by 17 years and a man by 10 years, and can also cause atherosclerosis that causes heart attack and stroke
  • Against the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendation of 100,000 rheumatologists, India has 1,000 at best.
  • Together with psychiatric diseases, rheumatologic diseases cause more than 50 per cent of the chronic illnesses in India.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 25 per cent of Indians but lack of awareness and specialists delay diagnosis by about 2 years.  
  • Rheumatologists are actively supporting the rheumatic patients in India to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

New Delhi, 14, April 2021: Noting that rheumatic diseases can not only cause pain and disability but shorten the lifespan of both men and women, renowned rheumatologists from all over India have expressed their concern on the lack of specialists treating rheumatic diseases that affect one-fourth of Indians. The experts gathered at the inauguration of the Rheumatology Week, a virtual week-long initiative by Indian Rheumatology Association (IRA) in association with Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council, focuses on making people aware about three major rheumatologic diseases i.e., Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis & Systemic Lupus Erythematous (SLE), available in 7 regional languages – Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, Bangla and Odia to begin with.

Dr. Prof. Alakendu Ghosh, President of Indian Rheumatology Association (IRA) and Head of Department, Rheumatology, IPGMER, SSKM Hospital, Kolkata says, “Rheumatology as a speciality involves pain and stiffness of joints compromising even activities of daily livings. This is an innovative concept to spread awareness about this group of very serious diseases so that patients are aware about the disease, their risk during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and address their concerns about the vaccination. Predominantly, females are affected more by rheumatic diseases, except in ankylosing spondylitis. Nearly 1 per cent of our population is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatic diseases such as lupus and vasculitis can impact beyond joints involving kidney, lung, nervous system causing both morbidities and mortality. We need to appreciate that there is a huge imbalance between the need of services and the availability of specialists to provide the optimum care. In this era of COVID, we need to deal with clear minds about how to live with science as the only backbone of knowledge — a vaccine for COVID is a must for all of us as much as a mask.”

“Together with psychiatric diseases, rheumatological diseases cause more than 50 per cent of the chronic illnesses in India. There is a gaping hole in the availability of specialists – the World Health Organization (WHO) says India needs 100,000 rheumatologists, but we have 1,000 at best, and patients seek treatment from general physicians, orthopaedic doctors, and even alternative methods. We urge to cover the rheumatic diseases under the Prime Minister’s Ayushman Bharat scheme so that more people can get treated,” says Dr Prof. Debashish Danda, Founder of Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology, CMC, Vellore and President-Elect of the Asia Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology.

Dr K M Mahendranath, Senior Consultant Rheumatologist, Samarpan Arthritis and Rheumatology says, “Rheumatology is a Cinderella speciality – it is perceived that only the heart, kidney and brain need our attention. Rheumatology has been neglected due to lack of awareness in patients, health planner, bureaucrats, and health educationists. Few know that rheumatic diseases can shorten the lifespan of a woman by 17 years and a man by 10 years. These diseases can also cause atherosclerosis that causes heart attack and stroke.”

Allaying fears and apprehensions about the COVID vaccines, Dr. Prof. Danda says, “Rheumatic patients must know that there is no contraindication for the vaccines unless one has a previous episode of anaphylaxis. They also must not worry about the blood clotting news they are hearing. Though it is recommended to halt medicines 1 week before vaccination to 1 week after it for maximum benefit, one can continue taking medicines and get vaccinated and yet get some benefit.”

“Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 25 per cent of Indians but lack of awareness and specialists delay diagnosis by about 2 years and impede the way to treatment that can enable them to live a productive life. These people are also more susceptible to the COVID-19 and are often not sure if they should take the vaccine. Awareness about the disease is important to not only improve treatment but also to reduce their risk of getting COVID-19. We want maximum people to benefit from these discussions and there is no better way to reach them other than in their local languages,” says Mr Kamal Narayan, CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council.

About Mahender Bansal

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