Thursday, November 22, 2012
I ran into a junior from college today who was talking about applying for a life in medical research. When I asked him which research topic he had selected to marry for the rest of his life, he replied Type1 Diabetes. Now that puzzled me immensely. As far as I knew, type 1 diabetes is not such a widespread disease in India.
For those who don’t know the difference, diabetes is of two types- Type 2 is the commonest which everyone refers to as Diabetes. In type-2 or adult-onset diabetes (because it is first seen around 40 years only) there is reduced insulin production by the body leading to the sugar staying in the blood itself instead of being absorbed into the body cells, hence people say my blood sugar is increased but not absorbed by the body. This type 2 diabetes is the one everyone talks about when they say India is full of diabetics, because the people are overweight and don’t get enough exercise. But actually the largest number of type 2 diabetics (given the relative size of their population) is found in the USA. There they call it a non-communicable disease or lifestyle disease because it is brought about by lifestyle changes like fast food consumption and extremely stressful living conditions and it cannot be communicated from one person to another like an infectious disease.
Coming back to the other type of diabetes the type 1- it is a very rare genetic condition seen from childhood but mostly around puberty time (hence called juvenile diabetes) where the body does not produce any insulin at all. But thankfully the percentage of this dangerous disease is less than 6%, while 90% of the commonly seen diabetes is the other one- the lifestyle disease brought on by obesity and lack of exercise.
And that’s why I was surprised when this guy told me he wanted to research this rare disease instead of the commoner disease. I congratulated him on his guts to go after this disease because; I know how hard it is to research any rare disease when the patients are not available immediately for doing any test required. He laughed and said, his motive was far more mercenary than I supposed. The reason he had chosen this topic was, the Americans are going absolutely crazy about diabetes and they are pouring millions and millions of dollars into research on diabetes, trying to find a cure for diabetes and any research proposal with the word “diabetes” in the title and immediately a visa is granted with a fat fellowship. And that’s why this guy had chosen this research. To get a US visa. And not because he had any love for research or interest in diabetes.
Well, I am in no position to comment about the Americans or their obsession with diabetes except to say that they should be far more proactive in preventing it by changing their fast food and stress filled lifestyle, instead of wasting dollars into trying to cure it later on. But that is a matter of opinion. Personal opinion.
But what struck me more was the fact that I had just read in the paper that morning about how so many people had died of dengue fever. Now dengue if you didn’t know is a communicable disease. It can be passed from one person to another through mosquito bites. If you can somehow stop the mosquitoes from biting infected persons and then biting normal person, dengue can be prevented completely. But no one is researching dengue. Not in America. Not in India.
In India we are suffering from so many communicable diseases like malaria, dengue, chickengunya, etc but are we or is our government caring about it? These are diseases which can be easily prevented, but they are not being prevented. Instead we are blindly following the Americans into concentrating on diabetes, heart disease and all the biggies of medical mysteries while every day a lot of people die of malaria but are barely thought about. Please check how many people die daily of heart attack and diabetes and now check it with how many people die of infections which can be cured easily with simple steps? And now tell me which disease we should be concentrating more on in India?
I am not denying the importance of doing research in diabetes with this post of mine, just offering a different perspective. We are a poor country, we don’t spend much money on research. And we don’t consider research important enough to fund, unlike say funding for security bodyguards to safeguard our politicians against all enemies. And that is why no one in their right mind wants to do research in India. But what little amount of research money being spent in India should be directed to the very necessary diseases of our country instead of blindly following others examples. That's my view. And I rest my case.