Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical research in India and the rise of non-communicable disease

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 29 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3371
  1. Vageesh Jain, medical student
  1. King's College London, London SE1 1UL, UK
  1. vageesh.jain{at}

Vageesh Jain assesses whether spending on research in India is preparing it for the future

In India’s two tiered health system many have criticised the government for a lack of public spending on health. Public health expenditure marginally increased from 1.0% to 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 2009 to 2013.1 Over this period total health expenditure (including private expenditure) increased fractionally from 4.4% to 4.5% of GDP.2 Such low overall levels of spending, in a country ranked as the third largest economy in the world,3 are inadequate to deal with the vast inequalities and high levels of poverty.

The 2012 World Health Organization report No Health Without Research underpins the crucial but often overlooked part research has in the long term strengthening of health systems, improving the equitable distribution of high quality health services, and advancing human development.4 Economic and social development have done much to improve health in India. But the country’s success in reducing its burden of communicable disease over the past few decades is largely down to the establishment of large national institutions, investment in research and innovation, and successful interventions in public health.5

Health research has many benefits. As well as the potential to develop new diagnostic tools and treatments, it enables the appropriate planning of healthcare services, permits constant evaluation and improvement of medical care, and allows rigorous investigation of risk factors and disease associations.6 The importance of population based research is shown by the fact that modest reductions in major risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the United Kingdom have led to gains in life years four times higher than drug treatments provide.7 Implementation of research programmes also helps to retain talented physicians and scientists and promotes collaboration with the pharmaceutical and medical technology industries. …

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