Narendra Modi is the first prime minister of India, which is engulfed in a “swirling epidemic of non-communicable diseases”, to have prioritised universal health coverage as part of his political platform under the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ programme, a noted UK-based medical journal has said.

Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the ‘The Lancet’, said the prime minister has grasped the importance of health not only as a natural right of citizens, but also as a political instrument to meet the growing expectations of India’s emerging middle class.

He, however, was critical of Rahul Gandhi, and said the Congress chief was “yet to match Modicare.”

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The Lancet editor-in-chief asserted that health will be a decisive issue in next year’s general election in the country.

With reference to five India-specific disease burden studies on non-communicable diseases published in The Lancet group of journals on Wednesday, Horton said, “…as the BJP and Congress set out competing and contrasting visions for India’s future, health will rightly become a decisive issue in next year’s general election”.

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“After years of neglect, the Indian Government has at last recognised the perils of public discontent about health. Under a new initiative called Ayushman Bharat launched this year, Prime Minister Modi has implemented two new flagship programmes,” the article said.

Horton said the five Lancet papers have also revealed a dangerously rapid epidemiological transition with Ischaemic heart disease being the leading individual cause of disease burden in India, while the contribution of cardiovascular diseases to total deaths has almost doubled since 1990.

“While India is engulfed in this swirling epidemic of non-communicable diseases, the country is also in the grip of a mental health emergency. India could claim 18 per cent of the world’s population in 2016, yet it accounted for 37 per cent of global suicide deaths among women and 24 per cent among men,” the article added.

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