Can the rural poor in India afford to treat non-communicable diseases

Erika Binnendijk, Ruth Koren, David M. Dror*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Objective Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are on the increase in low-income countries, where healthcare costs are paid mostly out-of-pocket. We investigate the financial burden of NCD vs. communicable diseases (CD) among rural poor in India and assess whether they can afford to treat NCD. Methods We used data from two household surveys undertaken in 2009-2010 among 7389 rural poor households (39205 individuals) in Odisha and Bihar. All persons from the sampled households, irrespective of age and gender, were included in the analysis. We classify self-reported illnesses as NCD, CD or 'other morbidities' following the WHO classification. Results Non-communicable diseases accounted for around 20% of the diseases in the month preceding the survey in Odisha and 30% in Bihar. The most prevalent NCD, representing the highest share in outpatient costs, were musculoskeletal, digestive and cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular and digestive problems also generated the highest inpatient costs. Women, older persons and less-poor households reported higher prevalence of NCD. Outpatient costs (consultations, medicines, laboratory tests and imaging) represented a bigger share of income for NCD than for CD. Patients with NCD were more likely to report a hospitalisation. Conclusion Patients with NCD in rural poor settings in India pay considerably more than patients with CD. For NCD cases that are chronic, with recurring costs, this would be aggravated. The cost of NCD care consumes a big part of the per person share of household income, obliging patients with NCD to rely on informal intra-family cross-subsidisation. An alternative solution to finance NCD care for rural poor patients is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1376-1385
Number of pages10
JournalTropical Medicine and International Health
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Health financing
  • India
  • Low-income population
  • Non-communicable diseases
  • Rural


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