India needs more than 20,000 rheumatologists as lakhs of patients are suffering due to non-availability of rheumatology services in most of the hospitals and thousands dying due to delayed diagnosis and lack of proper treatment facilities across the country, said experts on the occasion of World Arthritis Day.
The country has only about 800 rheumatologists against the requirement of more than 20,000.
“There are only a few rheumatology teaching centres. We need more DM, DNB and fellowship programmes in rheumatology to cater to our needs. National Medical Council (NMC) should take necessary steps to increase rheumatology training centres in India. NMC should allow more postdoctoral (post MD) rheumatology fellowship programmes across India in all teaching hospitals,” said Dr V. Sarath Chandra Mouli, Consultant Rheumatologist, KIMS Hospitals.
He said the NMC will have to ensure training on a large scale as by merely allowing 100 teaching hospitals to have two fellows per hospital per year, it will take 100 years to train 20,000 rheumatologists.
World Arthritis Day was first observed in 1996. It was started by Arthritis and Rheumatism International to increase global awareness about rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. Arthritis affects approximately 350 million people worldwide, including nearly 100 million people in India.
Arthritis is a group of diseases, which cause inflammation of the joints. It can affect one joint or multiple joints. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, with different causes and treatment methods. The most common types are Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or Lupus, Spondyloarthritis and Gout.
“Human immune system normally fights infections and provides protection to us. And when this system gets disturbed, the white blood cells damage our ability to fight autoimmune ailments like arthritis. Seen mostly among women in the 30-60 years age band, autoimmune ailments occur due to changes in the genetic or hormonal imbalances. And to control the problem, it is important to keep weight under check, avoid Vitamin-D deficiency, get treated for PCOD problems (if any), and stay safe if prone to respiratory problems,” said Dr. Srujana, Consultant Rheumatologist, Medicover Hospitals.
“Rheumatic diseases can affect individuals of all ages and both sexes, but is more common in females. The diseases significantly impact daily life. Early diagnosis is key to preventing further damage. Arthritis diagnosis is often delayed for years, e.g. Rheumatoid arthritis 2 years, Lupus 3 years, Ankylosing Spondylitis 10 years, Sjogren’s syndrome 20 years. Delay in diagnosis is primarily due to lack of awareness and non-availability of specialists. Most of the patients go to orthopaedics, neurologists or a general practitioner. For Rheumatic pains, one must consult a Rheumatologist,” said Dr Sarath Chandra Mouli.
He believes that the situation can be improved by better educating general practitioners, by also making patients aware of relevant symptoms and by increasing the number of trained rheumatologists in the country.