Health & Life

Featured Image - Richa Chadha

By YKA Staff:

“The Big B”

Nope, we aren’t talking about Amitabh Bachchan here. We’re talking about probably the first time an Indian actor spoke openly about battling an eating disorder – bulimia. In a recent Tedx Talk,  Richa Chadha addressed body shaming, intimidation and bullying in showbiz and spoke about a time in her life when she felt guilty for eating. For those who may not know, bulimia is an eating disorder where you ‘binge eat’ and then compulsively vomit out the food as a drastic measure to avoid weight gain. According to this Femina piece, “Bulimia has been observed in 5% of college-going teenage girls and 3% of adult women in India. The ratio of the disorder is 10:1 (women versus men).” But do we hear people, and especially women themselves, openly talking about it? Probably not.

While the video of Richa’s talk will be out next week, she was in conversation with Barkha Dutt on NDTV’s ‘The Buck Stops Here’ where she made some very powerful statements. Watch the video here and take a look at some of the things she said below.

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Have you ever suffered from an eating disorder or know someone who has? Find a safe space to share your experience on Email us on [email protected] and we’ll get back to you.

Also read:

11 Things To Know About Eating Disorders: ‘More About Emotions Than Food’

‘I Will Use The Word ‘Fat’ Without Feeling Sorry, But Will Society Let Me?’

Kekti Bai (C), who underwent a sterilisation surgery at a government mass sterilisation camp, watches while other women sit inside a hospital at Bilaspur district in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh November 15, 2014. Tablets linked to the deaths of more than a dozen women who visited a sterilisation camp in India are likely to have contained a chemical compound commonly used in rat poison, two senior officials in Chhattisgarh state said on Saturday. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH CRIME LAW SOCIETY) - RTR4E8PE

By Sanjay K Bissoyi:

Public health care in India is patchy. We have made great strides, but about 1.2 million children under the age of five died in 2015 alone. Besides, as this report reveals, 9.7 million malaria infections are reported on an average per year. 2015 also saw 2.5 million new cases of Tuberculosis cropping up nationwide. Out-of-pocket expenditure (OoP) forced 63 million people to go below the poverty line. According to the World Bank Data and Draft National Health Policy, 2015 report, 28% of deaths were due to preventable but communicable diseases such as lack of maternal and perinatal nutrition and only 65% children between one to two years age were fully immunized. With underfunded and overcrowded hospitals and clinics, and inadequate rural coverage, is it possible to provide universal healthcare to 1.25 billion Indian people?

The government has initiated some good programs to tackle the public healthcare like National Newborn Action Plan, Mission Indradhanush (new vaccines), National Health Mission (Integrating NUHM), Swachh Bharat, RSSY, National eHealth Authority, Draft National Health Policy, etc. However, such programs don’t give expected results due to improper implementation at grassroots levels and fall short mid-way.

Expenditure on health care in India was an estimated to be 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, but in the last union budget, the NDA government allocated roughly 2% of the GDP – that is Rs. 297 billion ($4.81 billion). If we go through the heath care fund allocations of the 54 countries with GDP greater than $ 300 billion, Pakistan, South Africa and Nigeria ranked below India. However, countries like USA, Australia, and Brazil spend more than 5% of the GDP on essential facilities such as health care.

Data reveals that hospitalization facilities available in rural Indian are available for only 35 people out of 1000 while urban India manages to cater to 44 only. About 70% of the OoP expenditure on health care are met with savings money while the rest is borrowed. On an average, every Indian spends 48% of their total annual income on health care.

The government spends a mere 0.1% of the GDP on publicly funded drugs while 70% of the total OoP health expenditure was incurred for purchasing drugs and medicines.
Given that over 70% of the total health care expenditure was incurred in private sectors and that most rich and upper middle-class don’t depend on public health care facilities, India will be able to solve much of its medical problems if it primarily caters to the poor and lower middle-class population. Nevertheless, it is not wise to limit such essential services to a certain section of the population.

According to a report by KPMG, by 2030, non-communicable-diseases will cause 67% of mortality in India. The only solution for this drastic scenario is “Robust Primary Care” in the country. The existing primary care system in our nation has various weaknesses. We have a good physical infrastructure, immunization, cold chain, reproductive health care, experienced ANMs and emergencies facilities available in some places but there are also bottlenecks such as lack of public trust in public health care. Most of the beds in hospitals are unutilized, absenteeism and shortage of doctors and other medical personnel is a recurrent problem, and there are very minimal OP services, no proper drug supplies, lack of robust data collection etc. These flaws push patients towards quacks or expensive health facilities, and tertiary hospitals end up overcrowded.

The population of USA is 318.9 million, and their health workforce is 12.2 million that is 3.8% of the total population. The population of the United Kingdom is 6.4 million; health workforce is 1.6 million which is equal to 2.4% of the population. However, in Indian, health sector workforce is almost abysmal. India’s population is 1250 million; health workforce is only 3.6 million and that stands for a meager 0.28% population ratio. Thus, India can create jobs for millions of unemployed youth in public health care sector.

No country ever achieved their universal health goals overnight. There are various ways to improve such systems. The Government should use existing tax revenues to pay for health care system. When the tax base widens, the government can consider levying income tax to support the health care programs. The government should spend more on primary care so that basic and preventive health care can reach the masses.

Our county needs to develop an all-India common public health service for every state. AADHAR-based registration, electronic patient records, ongoing and onward care biometric should make such a process more transparent. Free supply of generic drugs should also increase.

We should actively ask to the state how far and in what way has politics been engaged in public health care. The record is disappointing, there are no political debates for the interest of the poor, and we seldom find healthcare policies being implemented well at ground zero. But if there is will there is a way. One hopes India achieves its health care goals and brings relief to the 1.25 billion people of this country.


By Parth Sharma:

LixaoCatadores20080220MarcelloCasalJrAgenciaBrasilOf the 62 million tonnes of waste generated every year in India, 45 million goes unattended —straight to the landfill. The waste is only going to escalate as India is estimated to produce 165 million tonnes of waste by the year 2031 and 436 million tonnes by 2050 if the trends continue unnoticed.

India stands third, after China and US, in the world, regarding the quantity of waste produced. However in its attitude towards Solid Waste Management, it even lags behind Sri Lanka and Bhutan. India’s seriousness is also exposed looking at the number of waste-to-energy (WTE) plants—producing electricity, recycling goods, and creating compost. While the European Union operates 445, China has about 150, USA a little over 86 and India only 13. Of these thirteen none are operating at their full capacity and the area around these plants has also turned into a landfill.

Now even if we assume that setting up of WTE plants is quite difficult, it is hardly irrefutable that the government has failed to utilize its most abundant resource — the people. Chintan, an NGO claims that in India all the 20-25% of recycling that happens, becomes possible only because of the segregation done by waste pickers. Chintan along with Safai Sena, a registered organization of waste pickers and recyclers, run a recycling unit in Bhopura, near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, where 70 waste pickers hired to segregate, recycle, and compost the dry and wet litter work with a success rate of about 85-90%. They have asked the government to follow in their footsteps but to no avail.
With such scandalous figures to its name and such lackadaisical attitude in matters pertaining to Solid Waste Management, India’s hopes of becoming a “Swachh Bharat” lie pretty deep in the trash can.

However, on other side of the spectrum, we have something quite astonishing. Sweden, a small country in the EU is undergoing a “recycling revolution.” While India is still struggling to wriggle out of the mess it has accumulated, Sweden has become 99% waste free. With its 32 WTE plants it not only recycles all the waste they generate but also imports 800,000 thousand tonnes of waste from U.K, Italy, and Norway for energy production.

Now, as quickly as you may believe that Indians are a hopeless lot ever to achieve anything like Sweden, let me tell you there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel. This time, it shines from one of the poorest states in India, Chattisgarh, which has shown that – it does care.

The Darra Panchayat of Balod district has banned the use of plastics and disposables in wedding and funeral ceremonies. They have advised people to bring their cutlery and utensils when attending the ceremony. They have also banned the offering of ‘kafan’ (shroud for the deceased, which is later burnt) asking people to donate the money of the kafan to the family of the deceased which can be used for the cremation ceremony.

Jalmala village has even banned Holika and Ravan ‘Dahan’ to save wood and environment. The priests and temple committee of the Ganga Maiya Temple in the village have also managed to curb the use of polybags thus making it one of the cleanest temples even after a footfall of 10,000 every day during Navratri. Ambikapur, another district in Chattisgarh, has achieved something remarkably significant. It has earned its badge of becoming the first dustbin-free municipal corporation in the country. By digitizing their garbage management along with segregation of waste at the source by distributing red boxes (for inorganic) and green ones (for organic) to residents, they’ve successfully implemented the idea of converting ‘garbage to gold’; making Ambikapur India’s ‘little Sweden’—which doesn’t need a dumping ground.

Most of this achievement is attributed to the people of Chattisgarh who have positively responded to such initiatives rather than being a spoil sport by saying “why should only I do it?” Maybe they’re privy to the fact that if they don’t—no one would. A pretty civilized lesson from a state with 65.18% literacy don’t you think? But what will this entail for the rest of India? We’ll have to wait and watch. Or, should we do something about it? I think it’s high time we should.


By Karthik Madhavapeddi,

downloadIndia figured among 10 countries that saw that largest declines in happiness levels between 2005-07 and 2013-15, according to a report released last month.

The World Happiness Report ranked 156 countries based on the analysis of six factors by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN).

Other countries with highest declines in happiness include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Yemen. Italy and Spain also figured in this list.

Nicaragua had the largest increase in happiness levels during this period, followed by Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Moldova and Latvia. Israel and Palestinian territories also had an increase in their happiness levels.

The report, however, acknowledges that the case of India’s decline in happiness is unexplained by the model.

“The largest regional drop (-0.6 points) was in South Asia, in which India has by far the largest population share, and is unexplained by the model, which shows an expected gain based on improvements in five of the six variables, offset by a drop in social support,” the report said.

The report ranks countries on the basis of a scale of 0 to 10—with the worst possible life as a 0 and the best possible life as a 10— on six factors: Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble), trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business), perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity (as measured by recent donations).

The rating for the subjective factors was based on questions in the Gallup World Poll (GWP) asked of more than 1,000 people in each country.

India had a score of 4.404, much below the global average of 5.382, and was ranked 118th—one below last year’s ranking. Denmark, with a score of 7.526, was rated as the happiest country, while Burundi at 2.905 was rated the least happy. Half the countries had a score more than 5.314.

Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Pakistan happier than India

Among neighbours, India did better only than Myanmar (119th with 4.395); Pakistan was ranked 92nd with a score of 5.132 while Nepal stood 107th with 4.793, Bangladesh at 110th with 4.643, and Sri Lanka at 117th with 4.415.

“Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy,” the report published last month said.

India lags Saudi Arabia (34th), Uzbekistan (49th), Kazakhstan (54th), Somalia (76th), Iran (105th) and Palestinian Territories (108th).

Even among the BRICS nations, India stood last—behind Brazil (17th) with 6.952, Russia (56th) with 5.856, China (83rd) with 6.952, and South Africa (116th) with 4.459.

India and South Africa are the only BRICS countries that saw a decline in the happiness levels from 2005-07 to 2013-15.

Iraq, Yemen, Egypt had better social support than India

In GDP per capita, India was ranked 111th, much behind Brazil (69th), Russia (47th), China (79th) and South Africa (80th).

In terms of healthy life expectancy–defined as the average equivalent number of years of full health that a newborn could expect to live–India (59.07 years) did better only than South Africa (50.14 years) among the BRICS nations.

China (68.59 years), Brazil (64.59 years) and Russia (64.08 years) figured way ahead.

In terms of social support, India did better than only 10 countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Syria. Iraq, Yemen and Egypt fared better than India.

India was ranked 75th in terms of freedom to make life choices, and 64th in generosity.

In terms of trust, which was measured based on the perceived absence of corruption, India stood 90th, behind countries including Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Canada 6th, Russia 56th: How the big countries fared

Among the G8 nations, Canada ranked the highest (6th) while Russia ranked the lowest (56th).

Among the G8 nations, Canada ranked the highest (6th) while Russia ranked the lowest (56th).

Israel (11th) was ranked higher than the United States. The United Arab Emirates (29th) fared better than four of the G8 countries. Saudi Arabia, at 34th, fared better than Italy, Japan and Russia.

This article was originally published on, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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By Eric Bowman:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

What are the most addictive drugs? This question seems simple, but the answer depends on whom you ask. From the points of view different researchers, the potential for a drug to be addictive can be judged in terms of the harm it causes, the street value of the drug, the extent to which the drug activates the brain’s dopamine system, how pleasurable people report the drug to be, the degree to which the drug causes withdrawal symptoms, and how easily a person trying the drug will become hooked.

There are other facets to measuring the addictive potential of a drug, too, and there are even researchers who argue that no drug is always addictive. Given the varied view of researchers, then, one way of ranking addictive drugs is to ask expert panels. In 2007, David Nutt and his colleagues asked addiction experts to do exactly that – with some interesting findings.

1. Heroin

Nutt et al.’s experts ranked heroin as the most addictive drug, giving it a score of 3 out of a maximum score of 3. Heroin is an opiate that causes the level of dopamine in the brain’s reward system to increase by up to 200% in experimental animals. In addition to being arguably the most addictive drug, heroin is dangerous, too, because the dose that can cause death is only five times greater than the dose required for a high.

Heroin also has been rated as the second most harmful drug in terms of damage to both users and to society. The market for illegal opiates, including heroin, was estimated to be $68 billion worldwide in 2009.

2. Cocaine

Cocaine directly interferes with the brain’s use of dopamine to convey messages from one neuron to another. In essence, cocaine prevents neurons from turning the dopamine signal off, resulting in an abnormal activation of the brain’s reward pathways. In experiments on animals, cocaine caused dopamine levels to rise more than three times the normal level. It is estimated that between 14-20m people worldwide use cocaine and that in 2009 the cocaine market was worth about $75 billion.

Crack cocaine has been ranked by experts as being the third most damaging drug and powdered cocaine, which causes a milder high, as the fifth most damaging. About 21% of people who try cocaine will become dependent on it at sometime in their life. Cocaine is similar to other addictive stimulants, such as methamphetamine – which is becoming more of a problem as it becomes more widely available – and amphetamine.

3. Nicotine

Source: Anton Raath/Flickr

Nicotine is the main addictive ingredient of tobacco. When somebody smokes a cigarette, nicotine is rapidly absorbed by the lungs and delivered to the brain. Nutt et al’s expert panels rated nicotine (tobacco) as the third most addictive substance.

More than two-thirds of Americans who tried smoking reported becoming dependent during their life. In 2002, the WHO estimated there were more than 1 billion smokers and it has been estimated that tobacco will kill more than 8m people annually by 2030. Laboratory animals have the good sense not to smoke. However, rats will press a button to receive nicotine directly into their bloodstream – and this causes dopamine levels in the brain’s reward system to rise by about 25-40%.

4. Barbiturates (‘downers’)

Barbiturates – also known as blue bullets, gorillas, nembies, barbs and pink ladies – are a class of drugs that were initially used to treat anxiety and to induce sleep. They interfere with chemical signalling in the brain, the effect of which is to shut down various brain regions. At low doses, barbiturates cause euphoria, but at higher doses they can be lethal because they suppress breathing. Barbiturate dependence was common when the drugs were easily available by prescription, but this has declined dramatically as other drugs have replaced them. This highlights the role that the context plays in addiction: if an addictive drug is not widely available, it can do little harm. Nutt et al’s expert panels rated barbiturates as the fourth most addictive substance.

5. Alcohol

Although legal in the US and UK, alcohol was scored by Nutt et al.’s experts 1.9 out of a maximum of 3. Alcohol has many effects on the brain, but in laboratory experiments on animals it increased dopamine levels in the brain’s reward system by 40-360% – and the more the animals drank the more dopamine levels increased.

Some 22% of people who have taken a drink will develop dependence on alcohol at some point during their life. The WHO has estimated that 2 billion people used alcohol in 2002 and more than 3m people died in 2012 due to damage to the body caused by drinking. Alcohol has been ranked as the most damaging drug by other experts, too.

Eric Bowman is a Lecturer in Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Read the original article.


Photos taken from Rob Verrecchia's photoblog:

This set shows MSF working with a local theatre group to inform the community of the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Their play follows the story of a group of friends who transmit the virus between each other through unsafe sex and sharing a bloodied razor.


1. HIV Is A Death Sentence


If you’re looking for a good news story on global health, the fight against HIV/AIDS is a big one.

HIV/AIDS is the deadliest pandemic in recent history: it has killed twice as many people as the first World War. But the progress made in a mere 30 years against the disease has been spectacular. Today, someone who takes antiretroviral (ARV) drugs every day has a very low risk of developing AIDS and can live a long and fulfilling life.

…but also, unfortunately, right…

If you’re unlucky enough to live in a place with poor access to lifesaving ARV. Over 75% of the people living with HIV in West and Central Africa – 5 million people – are not on ARV treatment and therefore condemned to a slow, painful, and unnecessary death. The situation is even worse for the 730,000 HIV-infected children in the region: 90% don’t have access to ARVs. Urgent action is needed to change this situation.

Please refer to photo MSF160862 MSF working with a local theatre group to inform the community of the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Their play follows the story of a group of friends who transmit the virus between each other through unsafe sex and sharing a bloodied razor.
Credit: Rob Verrecchia/MSF.

2. HIV Mostly Affects Gay Men


It may be the case in Western countries, but not worldwide. In fact, the face of HIV globally today is a young woman. 59% of people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa are women. In South Africa, girls aged 15-19 are as much as eight times more at risk of HIV infection than their male counterparts.

It’s true that men who have sex with men are disproportionally affected by the pandemic. It’s also the case for sex workers or injectable drug users. This is the reason why the United Nations’ plan to combat HIV/AIDS puts a lot of emphasis on these most-at-risk groups. But still, 45% of all children who are born with the virus come from West and Central Africa. Why? Because their moms did not have access to treatment.

3. You Cannot Have A Healthy Baby If You’re HIV Positive


A pregnant HIV+ woman on optimal ARV treatment has less than 2% risk of transmitting the virus to her baby. This is fantastic news: thanks to ARVs, the number of children born with the virus worldwide has been cut by 60% since 2000 and last year Cuba became the first country to declare that it had completely eliminated mother-to-child HIV transmission.

But again, this victory depends on the availability of ARV treatment. In West and Central Africa, only 39% of HIV-positive pregnant women are on treatment. This is why the number of children born with the virus in this region is so disproportionately high: whereas West and Central Africa accounts for 17.9% of the total number of people living with HIV in the world, it records close to half of the births of HIV-infected children.

Those babies are born with a disease that could have been prevented. And it’s all the more dramatic that 90% of the HIV-positive babies in this region do not have access to paediatric HIV treatment either. Without treatment, about one-third of children living with HIV will not survive past their first birthday; half of them will not celebrate their second birthday and only one in five of these children will celebrate a fifth birthday.

West and Central African countries are in need of a quick and drastic catch up plan. WCA has 6% of the world population, but 17.9% of the people living with HIV It accounts for 27% of all Aids-related deaths, 21% of all new infections, and 45% of all children born HIV+ This is explained by a low coverage of ARVs. Only one in four adults are provided with treatment. There are 5 million people in this region alone that need ARVs, which represents 1/3 of UNAIDS' target to getting 15 million extra people on ARV drugs by 2020. The main HIV actors are calling for a drastic acceleration in the fight against HIV/Aids The world has five years to get the epidemic under control by reaching 90-90-90 by 2020 (90% PLHIV know their status, 90% of them initiated on treatment, 90% of them virally suppressed). If not, the epidemic will rebound by 2030 and the considerable investments made in the past 15 years will be lost.
Credit: Manon Brulé/MSF.

4. Using Condoms Is The Only Way To Avoid Infecting Your Partner Or Getting Infected By HIV


For sure, using condoms is very effective in preventing HIV infection. But it’s not the only way.

Studies have shown that optimal treatment on ARV reduces the risk of transmitting the virus by 96% in couples in which one is HIV-positive. New drugs even allow HIV-negative people to be protected against infection.

Promoting the use of condoms is an important tool against HIV, but people need a combination of prevention tools to choose from, to fit best with their situation. Offering ARV treatment for all is a key component to put the HIV/AIDS pandemic under control, and therefore, it’s a huge problem that so few people – less than 1 in 4 – have access to treatment in West and Central Africa. Without treatment for all who need it, everywhere, the chances of bringing the global pandemic under control are very slim. This is why MSF is calling for an urgent, ambitious catch-up plan for countries with low coverage of ARVs.

HIV illustrations 3_JPEG
Credit: Manon Brulé/MSF.

5. The More HIV+ People In A Country, The More AIDS-Related Deaths


South Africa has, by far, the largest number of people living with HIV (6.8 million), and AIDS still takes a staggering toll in the country with 140,000 deaths a year. But as staggering as it is, this number remains below Nigeria’s, which has half the number of HIV+ people. Can you guess why? Again, it’s simple: Nigerians have far less access to ARVs than South Africans (22% versus 45% coverage of ARV).

Credit: Corentin Fohlen/MSF.

Similarly, Guinea recorded roughly the same number of AIDS-related deaths in 2014 (3,800) as Swaziland (3,500). But Swaziland has twice the number of people living with the virus (210,000 versus 120,000) and the highest proportion of adults living with HIV worldwide (27.7%).

In short, in places where antiretroviral treatment is not widely accessible, people suffer and die proportionally more from HIV/AIDS.POSSIBLE ILLUSTRATION: video from Guinea (being produced) – stigma and difficult access to treatment

6. The Less HIV+ People In A Country, The Easier It Is To Fight The Disease


Logic suggests that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where ‘only’ 1.2% of its population is living with HIV, would be better able to provide ARV daily treatment than Malawi. After all, both countries are relatively comparable on paper in terms of GDP per capita or human development index . Yet Malawi has managed to put 50% of its HIV-infected population on ARVs. The DRC, less than 25%.

Doesn’t make sense? Well, there are some explanations. If, as in the DRC, HIV is less visible in society, media and political agenda’s, it gets lost among many other health priorities. This is understandable. What is less understandable is the constant neglect by international actors of countries with high HIV prevalence like countries in West and Central Africa.

West and Central African countries are in need of a quick and drastic catch up plan. WCA has 6% of the world population, but 17.9% of the people living with HIV It accounts for 27% of all Aids-related deaths, 21% of all new infections, and 45% of all children born HIV+ This is explained by a low coverage of ARVs. Only one in four adults are provided with treatment. There are 5 million people in this region alone that need ARVs, which represents 1/3 of UNAIDS' target to getting 15 million extra people on ARV drugs by 2020. The main HIV actors are calling for a drastic acceleration in the fight against HIV/Aids The world has five years to get the epidemic under control by reaching 90-90-90 by 2020 (90% PLHIV know their status, 90% of them initiated on treatment, 90% of them virally suppressed). If not, the epidemic will rebound by 2030 and the considerable investments made in the past 15 years will be lost.
Credit: Manon Brulé/MSF.

7. Only Rich, Stable Countries Have The Capacity To Offer Lifelong, Daily Treatment


This seems to make logical sense; after all, even health systems in rich countries are already under strain to provide treatment for a growing number of people with chronic conditions: diabetes, obesity, etc. So, imagine the situation in a country like Malawi that needs to provide daily HIV treatment for 10% of its adult population, even though it has six times fewer health workers than the bare minimum recommended by WHO.

In fact, the most noteworthy progress against HIV/AIDS has been achieved in resource-poor countries. In fact, the introduction of ARVs in the 2000s was the single most important factor in increasing life expectancy in Southern Africa.

MSF has even built experience over the years as to how to provide HIV care in conflict settings, for example in Yemen or CAR, to avoid making people double victims of both war and their HIV+ status. Continuing care is imperative even in the most challenging, unstable areas.

Just because a country has limited resources or a context is complicated or unstable doesn’t have to mean that people living with HIV cannot be provided with ARV treatment.

It is essential that none of us, anywhere, forget the most neglected victims of HIV/AIDS. For this reason, MSF is calling calls on donors, affected governments and UN agencies to develop and implement a fast-track plan to scale up life-saving antiretroviral treatment in countries where ARV coverage reaches less than one-third of the population, particularly in West and Central Africa.

The time is now.

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By Sagarika Bhatta:

Kathmandu_police_pollutionKathmandu, the capital of Nepal, has been ranked as the third most polluted city in the world according to a Serbia-based research website

It was rated average in air, water, land, noise and light pollution, with a dire shortage of open, green spaces and clean drinking water. In the last 20 years or so, Kathmandu has boomed from being a scantily populated city with a few houses to a congested settlement with a serious dearth of space.

Flawed planning and implementation from both government and private sector have turned the largest municipality in Nepal into a chaotic place lacking proper solid waste management and water supply (According to CBS in 2011 per capita water supply in Kathmandu was registered at 35 liters whereas the demand was much higher at 44 lpcd).
Instead, Kathmandu is now enmeshed in a tangle of electricity and telephone wires – a nightmare of unmanaged land and no definite settlement clauses.

Population and mismanagement are not the only things changing in Kathmandu. In these last 20 years, extreme climate change has also been observed. While summers never exceeded 30 degrees Celsius, it is now normal for the temperature to reach as high as 34 degrees. The green hills around Kathmandu valley have always been a treat for those trying to get away, but pollution effects have muddled the view considerably.

Atmospheric particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5, small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs, are causing respiratory problems and other serious health issues in cities and rural part of Nepal. The common health effects of PM10 are eye irritation, cardiovascular and throat infection and asthma. While exposure to PM2.5 is much more harmful as it might lead to lung cancer.

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), major concerns for human health from exposure to PM-10 include: effects on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer, and premature death. Children, elderly, and those with chronic lung disease, influenza, or asthma, are especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter. Acidic PM-10 can also damage human-made materials and is one of the leading causes of reduced visibility. The smog in Kathmandu valley has created a layer that withholds sun rays from penetrating.

Besides Kathmandu valley, other cities of Nepal are also facing similar problems of outdoor air pollution while rural parts of the country are more exposed to indoor pollution due to smoke from woods, charcoal, agricultural residue and animal waste.

According to reports, those exposed to indoor pollution in rural parts of the country are the worst affected. Many of the deaths are due to acute respiratory infections in children while others succumb to cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. But these days the people of Nepal are heavily exposed to outdoor air pollution and cases of respiratory diseases in hospitals are at an all-time high. In fact, a report states that the worst affected are those traffic police who are exposed to air pollution for long stretches each day.

In Nepal, transport sector generated approximately 98% of the total PM10 and 69% of total emission loads in 2010, according to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Current construction work carried out in the city has added to the pollution, and the wind furthers the misery.

Nepal based NGOs CEN and ENPHO, working in environmental awareness and protection, estimated that a reduction in PM10 levels in the Kathmandu Valley to comply with international standards would reduce 1,35,475 cases of acute bronchitis in children, 0.5 million asthma attacks, 4,304 cases of chronic bronchitis and thousands of hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

To address this issue, initiatives and policies has been introduced by the government and private sectors over the years but have lacked proper implementation and monitoring of comprehensive plans.

The climate change policy of 2011 urged authorities to move towards lower carbon emissions to reduce air pollution. Apart from this, the Ministry of Environment and Population had also installed air monitoring devices which stopped functioning except in just three places – Bhaktapur, Putalisadak, and Machhegan.

Vehicle emission testing is only limited to Kathmandu valley for three and four wheelers, with the green sticker system being enforced in 1999 though it was hardly effective in banning vehicles that didn’t comply with the rules. Many initiatives have been introduced such as adding 0.5% tax for each liter of petrol and diesel, besides introducing Safa Tempo. Yet, we have not seen any effective implementation of plans.

Air pollution and climate change

As air pollution and climate change have a direct impact on each other, Green House Gases (GHG) not only propel air pollution but also threaten the environment by increasing global warming which is the result of GHGs trapping solar energy by denying it a natural outlet. The heat that’s enveloped into the earth’s atmosphere then gets reflected back onto the earth’s surface.

As air pollution increases, the impact of climate change also increases. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected “declining air quality in cities.” Further, the EPA concluded in 2009 that GHG emissions “may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.”

According to an INDC report submitted in 2016, the government of Nepal plans to formulate a Low Carbon Economic Development Strategy that proposes to promote economic development through low carbon emission with a particular focus on human settlement and waste. It also mentions that by 2025, Nepal will strive to decrease the rate of air pollution through proper monitoring of sources of air pollutants like waste, old and unmaintained vehicles, and industries.

We haven’t yet witnessed the implementation of effective plans in the recent years to reduce effects of climate change and air pollution. However, there is no dearth of planning as an entourage of ideas have been pitched and suggested in INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), as to what would be suitable for Nepal in the long run.

But with such severe health risks, facing the impact of air pollution and being exposed to harmful particles on a daily basis, 2025 might seem like a distant dream for the citizens of Nepal struggling to keep their lungs safe from all the muck.

junk food india

By Charu Bahri,

By choice or compulsion, Indians across age groups and income categories are falling short in meeting the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended daily intake of five servings of fruit and vegetable, a new report has revealed.

In consuming only 3.5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day–a third short of the recommended intake–Indians are predisposing themselves to chronic diseases, the reason why the WHO issued that guideline, said the India’s Phytonutrient Report, a new publication by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and the Academic Foundation.

An affinity for fast food, long work hours and rising prices of fruit and vegetable are the leading reasons for a drop in their consumption.

India now has the greatest disease burden of any country, hastening what experts call an “epidemiological transition” from communicable to non-communicable or so-called lifestyle disease, as IndiaSpend reported, accentuated by a failing public healthcare system. Healthcare expenses push an additional 39 million people back into poverty every year, this Lancet paper said.

Dietary Changes– And Chronic Disease– Accompany Economic Prosperity

Investigating the causes for the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases globally in the 1980s, the WHO zeroed in on dietary changes. Populations in developed nations and the affluent in developing nations were eating less fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and more of fat, processed food and sugar than earlier generations.

That trend was repeated in India. Affluent Indians were getting 30% of their daily energy intake from fat and were consuming half the amount of dietary fibre than previous generations, concluded this 1991 WHO study.

Trisha Roy, 35, a Pune professional, is aware that the World Health Organisation recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, but she eats 3.5, the average consumed across India. Rising prices–which doubled, in some cases, tripled, over the last decade–prevent her from buying more fruit and vegetable. She tries to buy a variety though, “as that is good for health,” she says.

To stop the spread of chronic diseases, the WHO had recommended eating at least 400 gm—five servings of 80 gm each—of fruit and vegetables a day. Indians have largely ignored that warning and this poor choice is showing up in mortality data.

In the last quarter century, chronic diseases have emerged as the number one cause of death in India:

Heart disease has become India’s top killer, IndiaSpend has reported, striking across income classes in concert with dietary and exercise lapses.

India is seeing a diabetes epidemic, with about one in 10 adults suffering from the disease and more than a million succumbing to it annually.

Cancer has become India’s fourth major killer, doubling its presence since 2004, IndiaSpend has reported.

High Cost Keeps Indians From Consuming Enough Fruit And Vegetables

“We eat potatoes and dal mostly, and green vegetables when they are cheap. I buy bananas for my children about once a week.” — Sujata, 27, a domestic help in Pune.

Sujata is unaware of the WHO recommendation, part of the nine of 10 Indians similarly ignorant.

Helpings of starch-laden potatoes and other tubers don’t count as vegetable servings (see box), and the WHO recommends eating a variety of fruit and vegetables.

“Fruit and vegetables have become more expensive since the rains failed last year, and cost much more in the city than back in our village,” said Sujata, explaining her situation.

The prices of fruit and vegetable rose steadily over the last decade, with most prices doubling, even trebling in the case of sweet potato and ginger.

Rising food prices affect low-income families the most but the middle class is not exempt.

“I buy fewer fruit, even though I continue to buy a variety, as that is good for health,” said Trisha Roy, 35, a professional in Pune and Sujata’s employer, who is conscious of WHO guidelines.

Cost was the third most frequently cited reason for the low consumption of fruit and vegetables, in the Phytonutrient Report. Correspondingly, higher earners in the five cities tapped for the study—Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, NCR and Mumbai—were found to consume more fruit and vegetables.

“More Chennai and Hyderabad respondents were vegetarian and from higher income families, which is possibly why we found a higher intake of fruits and vegetables in those cities,” said Arpita Mukherjee, professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, and the study’s lead author.

Vegetarians consumed 3.97 servings of fruit and vegetable; non-vegetarians, 3.2 servings, the study found.

Young Adults, Students, Eat Fast Food Instead Of Fruit And Vegetables

“I work long hours during which I only have access to food available in the canteen and in nearby shops. These outlets don’t sell fruit. So I only get to eat fruit when I bring it from home. Frankly, I am neither that organised nor that health conscious,”— Ankita Vaid, 25, public relations executive in Delhi.

Young adults aged 18 to 25 and students eat roughly three servings of fruit and vegetables compared to 3.5 helpings that adults consume, according to the Phytonutrient Report. A busy work life coupled with long working hours was the leading reason cited for low consumption followed by the seasonal (and hence limited) availability of fruit and vegetables.

Ignorance and a sedentary lifestyle has spoilt the diet of Indians, said nutritionists.

“I see so-called health-conscious young adults who eat readymade cereals for breakfast and many skip breakfast, they are in so much of a hurry,” said Shweta Bumb, a Pune-based nutritionist. “At lunch, they eat a serving of veggies. Then they mess things up by eating junk food for dinner and/or on weekends. Nine in 10 of my patients eat one fruit a day, and that too not every day, or not a full fruit.”

More middle-class Indians are eating fast food instead of sabzi-roti-dal-chawal, in the process, limiting their intake of fruit and vegetables. In smaller cities and towns, middle-class households doubled spending on food between 2012 and 2014, the 2014 Assocham paper Indian fast food market new destination: Tier-II & III cities tells us. In metropolitan cities, middle-class households increased spending on fast food by 35% over the same period.

Poor food choices eventually lead to chronic disease.

“Taste drives food choices nowadays,” said Parul Khurana, nutritionist with SCI International Hospital, Delhi. “I see middle-aged, overweight women with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and triglycerides, early signs of heart disease and diabetes, as a result of eating wrong foods like parathas, flattened rice cooked with potato, salty snacks and fast food.”

Five-A-Day Doesn’t Keep The Doctor Away; Seven To Ten, Better

Five-a-day is a catchphrase coined to popularise the WHO recommendation to eat five servings of 80 grams a day, 400 grams of fruit and vegetables in all.

India, like Germany, Holland and New Zealand, endorses the WHO five-a-day recommendation. Other countries recommend more helpings of fruit and vegetables, which studies now show can do more to prevent chronic diseases.

Five portions a day are good for children, according to Canadian guidelines. But teens and adults need seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables.

Five servings of vegetables and two of fruit is the Australian guideline, based on the belief that vegetables do more than fruit to keep the body healthy. Last year, a British study validated this belief.

Ankita Vaid, 25, a Delhi-based public-relations executive, eats two servings of fruit and vegetable during her 10-hour work day. She is representative of India’s young adults, whose love of fast food and long work hours leads them to consume three servings of fruit and veggies a day, 40% less than the World Health Organisation recommends. In time, this lifestyle exposes them to a variety of disease.

Vegetables are four times healthier than fruit, said this University College London study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the first time scientists quantified the health benefit of fruit and vegetables. Every serving of vegetables lowers the risk of dying by 16% while a helping of fruit lowers your death risk by 4%, they estimated.

People who ate seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day had a 42% lower risk of death than those who ate less than one portion, the London study concluded. Consuming seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables lowered the risks of dying of cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively.

Low fruit and vegetable intake is among the top 10 risk factors contributing to explainable mortality, a World Health Report said in 2003. What it means is this: If Indians eat more fruit and vegetable, they will be at lesser risk of death.

WHO Fruit & Vegetable Intake Guidelines

    • Adults and children must eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
    • One adult portion of fruit or vegetables is 80 grams. As a rough guide, one child portion is the amount they can fit in the palm of the hand.
    • To get the most benefit the five portions should include a variety of fruit and vegetables.
    • Potatoes and other tubers cannot count towards the five-a-day because they contribute mainly starch.
    • Beans and pulses can supply a maximum of one portion a day, irrespective of how much you eat. Three heaped tablespoons of chickpeas (chana) or kidney beans (rajma) make a portion.
    • Dried fruit like figs and prunes can contribute to the five-a-day. A portion of dried fruit is 30 grams.
    • Fruit/vegetable juices and smoothies are best limited to a combined total of 150ml a day.


Sources: National Health Service, United Kingdom and BBC

This article was originally published on, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

hospital doctors

By Neha Sharma:

hospital doctorsAbout a month back on 17th March 2016, we had taken my grandma to a renowned hospital in Rohini sector 14, concerned over a minor hike in her TLC (total leukocyte count, which was 24k). Her feet were swollen slightly, and the doctor suggested that it would be better to hospitalise her for a speedy recovery.

After a few tests, the doctor told us that patches of TB were found in the patient, and they needed to start medication for TB immediately. She had walked into the hospital with her family, with us, on her feet. She couldn’t have been this ill. The medicines for TB had an adverse effect on her health and her condition started deteriorating. Her feet were more swollen than before, and she suffered a dramatic loss of appetite, dizziness, hallucinations and breathing difficulty.

For three days since then, we were requesting doctors to inform us about the state of my grandmother’s health clearly, but they didn’t pay any heed and never addressed our concerns. However, someone from the accounts department showed up asking for Rs. 70,000 to be deposited immediately; else they would stop treatment on the patient immediately.

On the fourth day, her health conditions turned for the worse and after much hue and cry, doctors finally shifted her to the ICU. Some tests were conducted again and now they told us, that she wasn’t suffering from TB at all. In fact, she had acquired Pneumonia from the hospital! The TB medicines were stopped. Instead she was now administered medicines to cure Pneumonia. However, the TB medicines had already damaged her kidneys, liver and lungs resulting in a TLC count of 44k (a straight 20 thousand jump from what she was admitted with).

We took her reports to another hospital in Shalimar Bagh. The doctors there told us that they could not shift the patient since they were on the panel of the super speciality hospital and this would have an adverse effect on their jobs (the doctors were more concerned about saving their jobs before saving a patient).

Meanwhile the ICU and hospital staff, the doctors were all rude. Not explaining her clear state of health to us, they left us hoping that things would improve. Her condition was deteriorating with each passing day. Finally on Saturday we were called for a meeting by the doctors where they had admitted that the patient was brought to the hospital with a mild infection but had acquired Pneumonia and Septicemia in the hospital. This, they said, was quite common and happened because the patient’s body had week resistance. Finally on 28th March at round 6:30pm, my grandmother was declared dead by the doctors.

I am surprised by the fact that the patient went to seek treatment on her feet; her conditions deteriorated; was shifted to ICU and then finally declared dead. Generally, in a normal situation, this goes the other way round where the patient is taken to the hospital in a critical state, is admitted to ICU, recovers and responds to the treatment, is shifted to the ward and finally returns home healthy. However what had happened with us was an exact traumatic opposite.

In this case, the doctors were negligent, almost asleep and never communicated anything with us. They were unresponsive, careless and inattentive towards my grandma’s health. Moreover, the doctors at the hospital seemed uncertain as to what plagued the old woman – TB or Pneumonia! They couldn’t make up their mind till the end! Imagine. Negligent attitude, excuse of age, harsh treatment towards patients, usage of hard medicines without keeping in mind sensitive details like urine culture and blood culture were things that contributed to her deteriorating health.
We heard many patients complain that they were not being treated for the ailment for which they had come to the hospital and were instead given medicines for something else. Their merciless attitude towards patients, dishonesty and treating patients for making money, experimenting with their bodies disturbed us thoroughly. We had lost a beloved family member due to their negligence and their merciless attitude, but I would not want any more families to suffer the ordeal that I and my family had to go through.

I wrote to them on social media, telling them what they had done to us. The reply from their end left me infuriated to say the least.

Saroj Hospital

Note: The information mentioned in this letter could not be independently verified by Youth Ki Awaaz

Participants perform a "Surya Namaskar" (sun salutation) during an early morning yoga session ahead of World Yoga Day, in New Delhi, India, June 13, 2015. World Yoga Day is celebrated on June 21. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee
 - RTX1GB94

By Kundan Pandey:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

Participants perform a "Surya Namaskar" (sun salutation) during an early morning yoga session ahead of World Yoga Day, in New Delhi, India, June 13, 2015. World Yoga Day is celebrated on June 21. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee - RTX1GB94
Image credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee.

Recently, Union Minister of State for Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) Shripad Yasso Naik claimed that cancer-like diseases could be cured through yoga. He said that this was ‘a proven fact’ and the government would come out with scientific evidence to support it within a year’s time. He mentioned the Bengaluru-based Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA) institute where several people, as he had been told, had been cured of cancer by regular practice of yoga. The institute had found a technique of yoga for the prevention and cure of cancer, he claimed while speaking at the inauguration of a four-day National AROGYA fair in Goa.

Down To Earth spoke to experts to know their views on the subject.

G. Ramachandra Bhat, Vice Chancellor of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA Deemed University) said, “The minister’s statement about curing cancer through yoga was quite positive and factual too. Patients whose cancer has been cured through yoga are in the thousands as we have been working on a specific yoga technique for at least four decades. The technique is well-established by laboratory and both, the traditional and scientific community have termed it as a good curative method. R. Nagarathana was the pioneer of the technique. Another practitioner, H. R. Nagendra is getting a Padma Shree for his work. A good number of papers have already been published on it and the organisation will complete all formalities required for government approval soon.”

Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Ritu Priya Mehrotra said, “Such kinds of comments are made due to political considerations. Having said that, it is also true that there are several researches going on under the aegis of the AYUSH department although I am not clear whether there is any research being conducted on yoga as a cure for cancer.”

About S-VYASA’s studies, she said that they might be on-going, but she was not aware of about them. She supported the initiative saying that such researches do not need to prove themselves scientific based on the definition of modern science. They have their own scientific standards and they prove themselves on their own criteria which is enough.


By Neetole Mitra:

Hello ladies! Let’s not dilly dally with silly conversations about the weather. Instead, let’s talk about something that truly matters. No, not weight loss. I’m talking about SEX. All in caps.

It’s time we opened up about our desires and our bodies. Let’s indulge in some womance for once. And while we are at it, let’s also talk about contraception. How about flinging the taboos, the stares, the taunts and the humiliating giggles out of the window once and for all?

If you are going all out to enjoy your sexual liberty then well done. A little action in the sac never hurt no one. And it definitely won’t hurt you if you are smart enough to say NO to your man at the right time!

Paromita Vohra of Agents of Ishq – a revolutionary media platform striving to ‘give sex a good name‘ – has taken it upon herself to tell you all that you need to know about the ugly truth behind over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills that no TV commercial will ever tell you.

So next time your man forgets to bring the condom, you’ll have plenty of reasons to roll over and snore. Ditch the pill ladies for contraception is not just your headache.


smile train

By Sakshi Jain

Image posted by Smile Train India on Facebook

Unlike the usual merriment around a child’s birth, Dinesh’s birth brought disappointment to his parents, they even considered ‘discarding’ the newborn to a garbage dump. Dinesh had a severe cleft lip at the time of his birth which instigated a sense of frustration in his father because of his financial incapability to treat the unexpected birth defect.

Cleft lip is a medical condition involving a physical split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip. It often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or upper gum. Contrary to the general understanding of being a cosmetic problem, it is a serious birth defect leading to other problems like difficulty in feeding a child, higher chances of ear infection and hearing loss, dental problems and speech difficulties. It also leads to breathing and respiratory problems.

More than the medical complications, social, psychological and behavioural traumas affect people with cleft lips more.

In a world where social acceptance seems to depend on physical looks, people with cleft lips are judged as ‘abnormal’ and discriminated because of their birth defect. Research has shown that attractive children are seen by others as brighter, having more positive social behaviour and receive more positive treatment than their less attractive counterparts. Thus, self-perception of people affected by cleft lip and palate anomaly get influenced by the social perspective and the need to look attractive, thus hindering their self-esteem and social competence. Moreover, the attitudes, expectations and degree of support shown by parents also influence a child’s perception of their cleft impairment.

In India, close to 35,000 children are born with cleft lip and palate every year and many of them are abandoned or killed. Almost every child with the cleft undergoes social atrocities.
Such is the case of a 40-year-old woman Shubhawati, married off at the age of 15, from Ratanpura district in UP who suffered from this birth defect. Having being deprived of adequate medical care at the age of one, she spent her forty long years of her life in isolation being deprived of school education, social rejection during gatherings and functions and was subjected to distasteful remarks by people. However, she kept praying for a ‘normal smile’.

Smile Train, one of the world’s largest cleft organisation with partners and programmes in over 80 countries, brought the ‘normal smile’ on the face of Shubhawati and gave Dinesh a second chance in life through a 45-minute surgery at no cost. In addition to free cleft surgery, support services like speech therapy and orthodontics helped them fully integrate with their peers.

In a country where more than half do not receive any treatment because of their lack of awareness about treatment or affordability issues, Smile Train India, started in 2000, aims to spread smile on every child’s face through these surgeries to treat cleft lip and palate at no cost through a network of 170 hospitals in the country. Since its inception, it has sponsored over 450,000 surgeries across the country.

Like Shubhawati and Dinesh, many more such cases need to be highlighted and many more smiles need to be spread. Such health issues need proper attention and categorization rather than relegating it as a cosmetic defect and building social stereotypes around it.

maneka gandhi mental illness

By Lipi Mehta:

Since 2014 (with the UPA government in power then), the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Bill has not been passed in Parliament. Now with the BJP government in charge, a Group of Ministers discussed the proposed bill on January 25 where Union Minister Maneka Gandhi raised objections saying that the bill does not lay criterion for determination of mentally disabled persons. “It (bill) does not differentiate between mentally ill and mentally disabled person. But there is a difference between the two. If a person is mentally ill like schizophrenic, how can he be given a job,” Gandhi said talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function.

This comment has created an uproar in the country with citizens questioning how and why people with schizophrenia cannot be a part of India’s workforce. In her defence, Maneka Gandhi has said that this issue been “completely misunderstood”. She has added that “definition of disabilities in the Bill must be clear as persons with Disability, Illness & Disease” so that the matter of who qualifies for the 3% job reservation under the bill is not left to interpretation by government officials.

While it is important to differentiate between persons with physical and mental disabilities, in order to better treatment and healthcare for all, the statement raises further questions of whether people with schizophrenia are “qualified: to fall under the 3% job reservation. The statement also ignores the many people with serious mental illnesses who might be on the path towards complete recovery or may have showed remarkable improvement. Moreover, to ask how a mentally ill person like a schizophrenic can be given a job, undermines the value of all those who are living with schizophrenia and working.

Take for instance the Aasha Employment Project where people with mental illnesses run stationery stores and even manage a paper cup production unit. Or The Banyan, a mental health NGO that is working hard to rehabilitate its patients and get them employed. While these are two names, Mrs. Gandhi’s sweeping statement undermines the value of every other person who is working hard to mainstream people with mental illnesses in society.

It has even led to the setting up of a Tumblr blog called We Can Work where people with mental illnesses are posting powerful messages to the minister.

Perhaps the real question we should be asking is why it is crucial to strengthen the conversation around mental health in India.

The reality is that 50 million people with mental health issues live in India, that is 5% of the country’s population. We need around 55,000 mental health professionals to tackle this crisis, though in reality, we only have a little over 7,000! The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled discusses a deeper problem in its letter to Mrs. Gandhi: “We feel your statement will make such persons more vulnerable. They may feel a threat to their jobs and livelihood. Many may even refrain from seeking medical and social assistance.”

That’s right, if our minister’s Disability Rights Bill doesn’t recognise the already-existing stigma faced by persons with mental illnesses in India, little can be improved when it comes to elevating their position, especially in government jobs.

In December 2015, PM Modi suggested on his radio show ‘Mann Ki Baat’ that disabled people should be called ‘Divyang‘ (with divine bodies) and not ‘Viklang‘ (with handicapped bodies). Such othering statements also do nothing to normalise and accept the presence of the disabled in society.

As for the bill, Mrs. Gandhi concluded by saying that it needs to be worked on further before presenting to the Cabinet. Well, we hope that she is right when she says the issue is “completely misunderstood”. And it would be great if the bill is worked upon further, so that we have a final draft that shows sensitivity and upholds the spirit of inclusion.

breast cancer awareness

Submitted anonymously:

Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the USA according to the American Cancer Society. The number is expected to rise within the next 5-10 years. Although the disease is more likely to occur in women carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or with a family history of the disease, sporadic cases exist. This information comes with an understandable baggage of fear and anxiety. But, it also comes with an appeal to all women. More often than not, you might have experienced your mothers, fathers, aunts or uncles reluctance to get an all-around health check-up because “everything is fine” or “nothing seems wrong”.

This isn’t uncommon. As humans, we have an inherent tendency to not pay attention to things that aren’t tangible – things we don’t see or feel. If symptoms of a health issue are noticeable – say joint pains, we immediately give it attention. But breast cancers can start with few to almost no symptoms. Hence, getting oneself checked seems without cause. Not paying heed to something that ‘could’ happen, or something that we can’t ‘see’ or ‘feel’, is an epidemic in itself.

breast-cancerExempting ourselves from possibilities that apply to us, also adds to the problem. Thinking that one day someone you love could be diagnosed with cancer might be incomprehensible. Co-relating or associating the 2 words is difficult for many because it is too striking or frightening. We say “It won’t happen to me”.

My mother was recently diagnosed with a sporadic case of breast cancer (there is no history of the disease in the family). After her diagnosis, 3 women in the family got themselves checked.

They didn’t associate with the disease and didn’t take statistics seriously enough to follow measures. But, a firsthand experience changed the dynamic and the unrelenting reality seemed probable. This is a behaviour commonly observed in many spheres – and it continues to take shape in health and wellness.

Do we have to wait for someone close to us to get diagnosed to begin looking after ourselves?

There are things we can do to prevent/aid in early diagnosis of the disease. Here are a few:

1. Thinking “It could be me” is scary and painful. But using it as an invitation to get check-ups regularly and pay attention to symptoms, means it can do more good than harm. Following guidelines from medical agencies to get required check-ups is helpful. If breast cancer is in someone’s books, regular check-ups that could result in an early diagnosis will change “it could be me” to “it was me”, or “it won’t be me”. We need to be precautious.

2. Some of our family members or parents are reluctant to get checked. If your mother or any female in your family falls in the category in which check-ups can be conducted and symptoms may be identifiable, take the responsibility upon yourself to have them follow guidelines from medical practitioners, however reluctant they may be.

If someone you care about has been diagnosed with breast cancer:

1. Give yourself time to feel sad and scared. But try to limit this to a phase. There are powerful things that can be learnt from the experience if you allow yourself to. In fact, I believe the best way to deal with pain is to give it purpose.

In my experience, I learnt about God and spirituality. These were ideas I had previously dismissed as visions of the cowardly. I also learnt the power of science and medicine have to transform a single life and hence generations. I found myself looking up, saying “Please” the night before my mother’s biopsy results were to come out, and saying “Thank you” when I heard her voice after surgery. I saw the gratitude and respect patients showed doctors when they walked the halls of the hospital. Looking back, it is intriguing how my experience revamped by beliefs so profoundly.
What happens to someone you love isn’t in your control, but what you make of your experience can be.

2. Prioritize her happiness and comfort. Going through treatment is emotionally and physically challenging. Surrounding her with positive energy and an overall optimistic environment goes a long way.

Watch TV shows or movies that make her laugh. Try to avoid sad ones when the mood already seems tense. We generally perceive actions as a result of emotions, but it works in reverse as well. Laughing can spark a change in the way someone feels too.

Although there are plenty of restrictions on diet, there are some dishes you can create with some extra effort. Ice cream sundaes with biscuits and chocolate, steamed vegetables, homemade – pizza, cakes and custards are some clean and healthy options. (Be sure to check what foods are permitted)

Have positive and optimistic conversations not just about the disease and what she is experiencing. Talk about topics that excite her – fashion, science, art, or politics. These conversations give her a sense of normalcy and also act as a distraction from continuous demotivating thoughts.

Think about the impact of what you say before saying it. You might want to avoid sensitive information like – “My friend’s relative died of cancer at age 30” or “cancer is a scam the government created” or “there is no cure for cancer”. Keeping her around family or friends who are supportive and positive is important.

It is understandable that you are concerned about her well-being, but don’t smother her. Independence is empowering. Being dependent especially for those who exercise a lot more independence than the average person is emotionally challenging. If she wants to do something that wouldn’t cause her harm, let her go ahead.

3. Every person has a different way of dealing with the news. For some, it may be through activism, and for some it might be by avoiding the word ‘cancer’ itself. Although you might not agree with her coping mechanism, if she is happy and comfortable with it, don’t enforce your ideas on her. If the approach she chooses is doing her more harm, try to gently guide her on a path suitable to her personality and outlook.

4. Breast cancer is a disease with several variables. Sometimes, the Internet doesn’t cover them all. Try to understand most of the disease from a doctor and not the Internet. This allows for case specific information and not generalizations. Before you believe or follow anything on the internet, fact-check it with a doctor.

5. The side effects of chemotherapy are subjective. It differs from person to person based on their overall physical well-being, age, medicine, dosage of medicine, etc. When you meet someone going through chemotherapy, you could avoid sharing with them side-effects you have heard of from unsolicited sources. It saves the person starting treatment from unnecessary anticipations, anxiety or fear. There is a set of symptoms the patient is oriented with by doctors before treatment so they are familiar with potential effects. The extra information from unqualified sources may do more harm than good.

6. It is easy for this disease to come in the way of your relationship with her. It could either bring you closer to her or take you farther from her. I don’t think that it is any one’s place to tell you what is right and wrong. But my advice is – take a step back after hearing the news. Think about how you feel and how she feels. Letting her in means you are going to be vulnerable when situations get tough. Distancing yourself from her could mean you would feel lesser pain. It is going to be more hurtful for her if you jump in and out of the relationship, or if you walk from her when the journey gets harder. If you decide to stay close to her, giving her your continuous support, and letting her in your heart completely allows her to build faith and trust in your presence.

Breast cancer is a journey of tribulations and challenges. Empathy and support go a long way.

Thank you, Amma for teaching me that beauty lies in strength and spirit.
Thank you, Amma for teaching me to share stories for change, not sympathy.

Source: Flickr

By Rahul Bhardwaj:

Source: Flickr
For representation. Source: Joe/Flickr

I am writing this article after my first 21 km run and hope to inspire others to do so in the process. I have done treks, runs before in my life but this particular event was the most unique experience of my life and after going through the whole process, I realised why it was important for me to run now and my whole life. No matter how many pitfalls came before the event, there was always a voice inside me that said not to give up and just move ahead. What was this voice? Why did this event have such a huge significance?

As marathons are becoming more and more popular among Indians, sceptics have come up to call this interest as to gain some bragging rights among friends. But those who really enjoy running will tell you it’s the battle inside which matters the most and not the world. And this battle inside motivates you to run faster and farther. While running, you leave behind all the tensions, worry, jealousy, envy, etc because the battle does not concern the world or anyone else except you. There are no factors other than you, your body and the path. That is a time in your life where your brain will not think anything, and you will be at complete peace.

Events That Happened Before The Run

Since it was a half marathon, I decide to train well for this, otherwise, I would fail to even complete the event. And it is always better in these events to go with someone, as it gives you the added motivation to participate in the run. So I decided to go with a friend and we decided that we will discuss how much we trained and how many kilometres we ran every day.

So 2 weeks before the run, I planned to run 10 km (half of the actual event) to test my strength and fatigue. It was a good run and I was feeling happy after the session. But as I was walking towards home, an agonizing pain started to build on the lower-middle part of my feet. The strange thing about the pain was that it kept on increasing for like 10-15 minutes and then it remained constant. I was sure it was a muscle pull due to practise and it will go away if I soaked my feet in warm water with salt and applied a sprain bandage. But the pain didn’t go away so easily, and there was a voice inside me which kept on telling me to endure the pain and just get ready for the marathon.

While I was dealing with the pain I got sick with a viral infection (10 days before the event) and it took me solid 4 days of bed rest and medicine to be normal. After I recovered from the viral I finally decided to see a physiotherapist and she explained that the problem was due to my shoes. So here I learnt a very hard lesson that if you are a runner and you do these kinds of events regularly, changing your shoes every 2 years is a good practice.

My ultrasound therapy session started 6 days before the run and after 3 sessions my pain reduced by 80% and I was feeling confident to run again. But 2 days before the run I met with an accident when my bike skidded off the wet road and I injured my left hand and knee. I was lucky to not get any serious injuries since I was wearing proper riding gear. While returning from the hospital after addressing my wounds, that voice kept telling me to not quit.

What Happened During The Run

The day finally arrived and as it was a midnight marathon the cold breeze started to show its effect as all were waiting for the start whistle to blow. After a motivational speech from the legendary Milkha Singh we were off and then, there was just the path and me. It felt great that so many middle-aged and old timers were running the race, it gave me added motivation to run faster and at the same time maintain my energy levels.

There is always one thing that happens in every marathon, you make an unknown marathon buddy. You will not say hi or know that person’s name but you will make sure you are not far behind that person or at least at reaching distance and at the final stretch you will try your best to beat that particular person.

The first 10 km were quite easy as I had properly trained for it but after 15 km the excruciating pain in the lower feet came back and it was worse than ever as there was no option to stop at this point of time. Now, I had to make a decision right there on whether to run the last 6 km or to stop as the pain was too much to continue. Based on the intensity of the pain I decided if it crosses a certain level then I would stop, otherwise I will keep running and not worry about it.

What The Run Taught Me

1. Perseverance: No matter how bad the situation is in life there is always a way to push through the troubles and come out as a winner.
2. Testing own limits: If you run you can test your own limits every time. Remember it’s not a fight with others but it’s the fight within that counts the most.
3. Me time: While running there is not a single thought inside your mind. I guess many have achieved this via meditation but for me running does the trick!
4. Inspiration: When you go on runs you will meet people much older than you running much better. This inspires me to remain fit all my life and automatically gives me motivation to atleast match their performance if not beat them.

At last I would like to say, I have experienced a lot of highs in my life but a runner’s high is the best feeling in the world; when you go beyond your own limits and achieve something which you thought is not achievable. So go for it, stop listening to the world, train your body and just run!

organ donation

By Sanita Pillai:

organ donationOrgan transplant is a surgical procedure to replace a diseased organ with a healthy donor organ. It is often the only treatment for organ failure. In the entire process, first the patient enrols himself/herself on the waiting list for transplant. Only after getting enrolled and getting an appropriate organ, the diseased organ is replaced by the healthy one donated by a donor.

It was a great achievement in medical history when organ transplantation was introduced to us; new hope for the people who were suffering from organ failure.

Unfortunately, only a few of the people in need of a healthy organ have received benefits from the medical procedure. Yes, that’s true and with that let’s face some other bitter truths about the scenario of organ donation in India:

1. Nearly 500,000 people die due to unavailability of organs each year.

2. Every year, nearly 150,000 people await a kidney transplant, but only 5000 get one.

3. In India, the country of 1.2 billion people, the PMP i.e. persons as organ donor per million population is just 0.08 which is extremely low compared to other countries.

4. Every year, nearly 1,000,000 lakh people suffer from blindness and await transplant.

Apart from these hard-hitting facts, black marketing is another harsh truth of which you will not feel proud. India has become one of the major black markets for organs. Despite organ trading is illegal in India, every year nearly 10,000 organs are traded of which kidneys hold 75 percent.

Now after knowing these facts, questions may arise in your mind such as: Why there is an unavailability of organs? Why are people not willing to take part in such a noble thing that can save many lives? Why is black marketing happening?

The answer to all these questions is a lack of awareness, which always confuse people for this noble cause. Hence, it is now time to clear all the confusions as getting rid of them can help save lives.
A few questions that always come in between us and organ donation are:

1. I am under 18, or I am too old. Am I eligible for organ donation?

There is no age limit for organ donation. Organs can be donated by someone as young as a newborn or as old as a 75-year-old.

2. I have a history of medical illness. Can I donate my organs?

The decision to donate or use an organ depends on strict medical criteria. It may turn out that certain organs are not healthy enough for donation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. The medical professionals are the best people who can determine whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

3. If I get admitted to a hospital due to some medical issues, and doctors find that I want to be a donor. Will they try to save my life?

If you are admitted to a hospital, the number one priority for the doctors is to save your life. The transplant team will not make any move until all lifesaving efforts have failed and death has been determined. They will also not take any step until your family has consented to donation.

4. What organs can be donated while alive?

It has become common to donate organs or partial organs while alive. Kidneys are the most common organs donated by living donors. Other organs that can be donated by living donors include partial liver, a lobe of a lung, pancreas or intestine. Also, living donors can donate fluids or tissues that can be regenerated such as blood, bone marrow, and parts of the liver.

5. What will happen to my health after donating an organ?

Organ transplantation has same complications/ risks as all major surgeries such as infection, blood clots and pain. In fact, it sometimes also has long term complications. But it depends on many factors such as health condition of the donor, donated organ and the procedure.

Few of the long-term complications based on specific organs are:

Kidney: Kidney failure, Hypertension
Liver: Renal failure, Gastric problems, Intra-abdominal bleeding
Pancreas: Diabetes

Recovery time depends on the same factors as complications after organ donation; health condition of the donor, organ and the procedure. It can take weeks to months.
Hence, before undergoing the procedure, make sure you ask every possible thing about risks, side-effects and recovery time to your doctor or transplant team.

Now when you have finally decided to become an organ donor, the only remaining question is: where to go? There are many health care organizations where you can donate organs and save lives. One of these organizations is Manipal Hospitals.

Pledge to Donate” is an initiative driven by Manipal Hospitals to encourage people for organ donation and to ensure that the patients, suffering from diseased organs, can easily undergo early organ transplantation.

Remember, one donor can save 8 lives!

pregnant-woman baby belly

By Ritika Potnis:

Pregnancy is portrayed as one of the happiest times of a woman’s life, but for some, it is heavily characterized by stress and anxiety. Current Studies show that 4%-20% pregnant women face depression worldwide.

Depression is a mood disorder, distinguished by loss of interest, guilt, low self-esteem and negative thoughts. In India, 16% women face depression during the gestation period. Reports from Indian hospitals suggest that in the past two decades such cases have risen drastically.

It is tough to identify depression as in most cases the mood swings, cravings or lack of cravings is taken as a positive sign of a healthy pregnancy. But if unchecked a mother’s gestational depression can harm the baby and the mother.

World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, Depressive disorders will be the second leading cause of global disorders. Therefore, it is important to correctly identify the condition and get immediate help for a healthy mother and baby.

If you are pregnant or know anybody who is expecting, make sure you keep them away from the blues by following simple measures given below.

7 Measures To Deal With Depression During Pregnancy

From Visually.


A mother feeds her malnourished child in the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre of Sheopur district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh April 6, 2010. India ranked 65th out of 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index of 2009, below countries including North Korea and Zimbabwe -- hindering India's ambitions to channel its demographic dividend to fuel its global economic ambitions. Picture taken April 6, 2010. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY) - RTR2D0JX

By Komal Ganotra: 

A mother feeds her malnourished child in the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre of Sheopur district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh April 6, 2010. India ranked 65th out of 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index of 2009, below countries including North Korea and Zimbabwe -- hindering India's ambitions to channel its demographic dividend to fuel its global economic ambitions. Picture taken April 6, 2010. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY) - RTR2D0JX
Source: REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

India represents one of the largest number of malnourished children in the world and performs dismally on all child nutrition indicators. Under-nutrition in infants and young children leads to growth failure, lowered resistance to infections, increased rates of morbidity, increased risks to survival, impaired growth and poor school performance. Thus, a lack of proper nutrition during childhood has tangible long-term impacts on the mental and physical development of individuals.

The ages 0-6 lay the foundation for the growth of children into healthy and productive adults. It marks a crucial phase for a child, as 80% of the brain development takes place during this time. An emphasis on proper and effective nutrition in this age is not only important but necessary. This involves a commitment both to the children and the mothers. The inter-generational cycle of under nutrition ensures that an undernourished mother gives birth to an undernourished child, experiencing cumulative growth and development deficits largely irreversible in nature. Ensuring a healthy start for children in this age group requires a multi-dimensional approach centered around nutrition, comprehensive immunisation and medical care, pre and post natal healthcare for mothers while focusing on social development and capacity building.

Recognising the crucial importance of a holistic emphasis on the age group 0-6, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, a centrally sponsored national flagship scheme of the Government of India, aims at addressing health, nutrition and the development needs of young children (0-6 years), pregnant women and nursing mothers.

However, despite government efforts and schemes, the nutrition figures in the country pose a grave concern.  Under the ICDS Scheme, the Anganwadi Centres aims to provide the requisite nutrition, health services and care to children and mothers. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in 2012-13 while 13,73,349 Anganwadis were sanctioned, 34,617 were still not operational and 33 % of the children in the country were not covered under the Anganwadis.

This comes to prominence all the more in remote areas. To highlight the gravity of the scenario, we consider the story of Pancho, a 6-year-old girl who belongs to the Saharia tribe, living in a village in district Baran, Rajasthan. Pancho was diagnosed to be severely malnourished. The village is 40 km away from the block headquarter in Shahabad and about 120 km away from district headquarter in Baran. The primitive tribe has been residing in Baran district for years now after being forced to move out of their original habitat, the forests. The abject poverty that the tribe lives in is striking.

Children bear the brunt of the deprivation, and as families struggle for sustenance, providing nutritious food to children is a distant reality.

The village has an Anganwadi which is accessible as well as operational yet there is no visible impact of its services in changing the nutritional status of children like Pancho. The problem lies not only in the irregularity of services and a lack of access but also the ignorance of the parents, who often fail to understand the severity of the condition of the child. It was only when a local NGO, Prayatna Sanstha, which works in partnership with CRY, noticed Pancho in one of their community visits early last year, did her condition come to light. After being counseled by the NGO, the community collective and Child Protection Committee the parents took to the child to the Malnutrition Treatment Centre (MTC).

While the treatment and special care at the centre lead to improved nutrition status of the child, she fell back into the malnutrition trap after 2-3 months, owing to inadequate nutrition and care at home. It was only after convincing her parents and prolonged treatment at the District Hospital in Baran, that Pancho is on the road to recovery.

The cases of malnutrition in Baran have been reported multiple times in the past yet children like Pancho suffer from nutritional deficits and there is little state intervention. This does raise questions on the nature and outcomes of growth monitoring and the required intervention thereafter.

To reach out to such children effectively, what we need is a well-defined system for management of malnutrition, which would involve the convergence of all stakeholders; not just Anganwadis but the health care centers, hospitals and MTCs as well. While ICDS is a well-designed programme and we have functional Anganwadis running in most places, bottlenecks in service delivery and community outreach pose a challenge in its proper implementation. The quality of services needs to be improved, with strict emphasis on growth monitoring of children and flagging off possible cases of malnutrition.

With improved service delivery of ICDS, preventive rather than reactive approach to tackle malnutrition, better community outreach, the nutrition status of children in the country will surely witness a significant change. Investing in our children in the age group of 0-6 will translate itself into long-term positive returns, and pave the way for a healthier and happier nation.


By Prachi Salve and Saumya Tewari,

Sanitation-india-garbageThe north-eastern state of Mizoram has reported a 13 percentage-point decline in stunting (below normal height for the age) and five percentage points decline in underweight children (underweight and short), according to a new report.

The reason: Improved access to sanitation. As many as 92% households in Mizoram had access to sanitation at the end of the 2011 Census, against 82% during the 2001 census, the India Health Report for Nutrition Security in India, 2015 released last month said.

As many as 522 million people gained access to improved sources of drinking water between 1990 and 2000, said the report, published by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

Open defecation and inadequate hand washing have been cited as reasons for poor health among children, leading to undernourishment.

India’s 40 million stunted and 17 million wasted children below the age of five are a challenge for a country whose health indices lag its economic growth.

This is the third part in our series on child malnutrition in India based on the PFHI report, where we track the states with worst and best nutrition figures and sanitation data to examine the relation between poor nutrition and hygiene.

While the first part looked at public spending on child health and nutrition, the second part looked at the impact of maternal health on child nutrition.

Not enough being spent on drinking water and sanitation

Poor sanitation makes for unhealthy children, susceptible to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and jaundice.

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had set a target of halving the population without sanitation facilities by 2015. UNICEF launched the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme in 2006 to promote this goal.

The Government of India has been focusing on improving drinking water and sanitation facilities across the country since 1999.

The Total Sanitation Programme was launched in 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. It was changed to Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in 2012 and renamed Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014.

Rs 25,387.5 crore ($3.8 billion) has been spent on drinking water and sanitation since 1999-2000, the data show. For comparison, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa sought more money, Rs 25,912 crore, from Delhi, to address the ravages of the state’s December 2015 floods.

More than 93 million households still don’t have toilets

Almost 90% of child deaths from diarrhoeal diseases are directly linked to contaminated water, lack of sanitation or inadequate hygiene, a UNICEF report said.

India’s infant mortality rate (IMR) has come down from 66 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to 42 in 2012 but it is still equal to poorer African countries, such as Senegal (42), Malawai (41) and Ethiopia (43).

Only 47% households in India had toilets, according to the 2011 Census data, an improvement of 11 percentage points over 2001 figures.

As many as 181.5 million rural households were surveyed in 2012 to assess the requirement of toilets in individual households; this survey served as the baseline for the Swachh Bharat Mission.

As on December 22, 2015, 93.1 million households in rural India had no toilets, according to government data.

As many as 46% households in India defecated in the open as of 2013-14, according to data from the Rapid Survey on Children (RSoC). This was an improvement of nine percentage points from 2005-06 data, when it was 55%.

Mizoram’s progress reflected in healthier children

The states that were better-off in terms of child nutrition show a strong co-relation between sanitation and child nourishment.

The best example is Mizoram, where the prevalence of stunting declined by 13 percentage points, and underweight children by five percentage points between 2006 and 2014.

The worst states in terms of nutrition parameters had fewer households with toilets.







There has been little progress in sanitation facilities in the worst-performing states. Figures for stunting have only improved eight percentage points in Bihar, three percentage points in Jharkhand, and there was no improvement in Chhattisgarh. However, there was a decline of 10 percentage points in stunted children between 2005-06 and 2013-14.

After the Swachh Bharat Mission, since 2014, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have managed to fulfill about 44%, 52% and 50% of the requirement as per the baseline survey.

Sanitation is only one factor affecting nutrition; for instance, data from what was once Andhra Pradesh show that the proportion of wasted children increased by six percentage points between 2006 and 2014, despite an improvement in sanitation.

Studies conducted in the past decade have emphasized on the need for sanitation to improve nutrition.

The example of Bangladesh is often cited. Between 1990 and 2012, open defecation dropped from 34% to 2.5% in that country, accompanied by a reduction in undernourishment, according to a report by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Washington-based think-tank.

smoking video

By Aiman Zehra

While some people cringe at the very thought of smoking and contact with smokers, others embrace the habit and consider it a good pastime, and a cure-all. With more and more women smoking now than ever before in India, discrimination toward women smokers seems to be fading away. But is it all for good?

This vox-pop video, produced by students of Aligarh Muslim University, captures the attitudes of the public with respect to smoking ‒ both passive and active. The video has been shot in and around the city of Aligarh in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Interviews throw light at the underlying psychological reasons for smoking, level of understanding of the medical impacts of smoking, and associated attitudes of risk taking and/or indifference among smokers, and strong negative opinions of non-smokers with respect to smoking generally as well as publicly.

‘Sutta Nation’ was adjudged first in Experimental Film category of 8th Film Saaz (2015), an International Film Festival organized by Aligarh Muslim University.

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Indian members of National Cadet Corps (NCC) hold placards during an AIDS awareness rally in the northern Indian city of Jammu December 1, 2005. India, with the world's second largest number of HIV/AIDS cases, must shed its inhibitions and start talking openly about safe sex to protect itself against the epidemic, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday. REUTERS/Amit Gupta - RTR19SKU

By Shreya Chatterjee

The year is closing on a rough note with the tragic terror attacks in Beirut and Paris and the heavy downpour that lashed our Chennai people. With few days still to go, I now wake up praying, ‘No more mourning morning’.

Indian members of National Cadet Corps (NCC) hold placards during an AIDS awareness rally in the northern Indian city of Jammu December 1, 2005. India, with the world's second largest number of HIV/AIDS cases, must shed its inhibitions and start talking openly about safe sex to protect itself against the epidemic, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday. REUTERS/Amit Gupta - RTR19SKU
Image source: REUTERS/Amit Gupta

This evening while catching up with season’s last discounts my eyes fell on a hoarding that authorities put up this AIDS day. Reminded me of the last month when while scrolling down the Facebook news feeds I came across- ”Reports: Charlie Sheen HIV Positive“. Further scrolling down had more of Charlie Sheen. The incident was a live example of how our awareness is lagging behind time. Biasedly clicking on one of the links opened the Pandora’s Box. The actor was diagnosed HIV positive four years ago. My greatest sympathies go to him. But what hit me hard was he paid hefty amounts to people to keep the news under wraps and still continued to engage with sex workers risking their lives too. He reminds me of the age-old HIV-AIDS stigma that still lingers in our society after thirty years, when the first cases of immunodeficiency virus HIV were recognised.

Know The Virus First

The dreadful virus gradually destroys the immune system by destroying the T-helper cells (a type of white blood cells). Firstly, T-helper cells (also referred as CD4 cells) release certain chemical substance that attracts other white blood cells (WBCs) to the infected area. Secondly, they release chemicals that help the WBCs to multiply which the rate the recuperation on the site of infection. These new WBCs create antibodies which attach itself to bacteria/virus/fungi for WBCs to identify and kill them. But when a body is attacked by HIV, the virus multiplies inside body targeting the T-helper cells itself and hell breaks loose. The infected T cells damage other cells. So basically the cells, which protect us from any infection caused by foreign bodies, lose their ability to protect the body. The infections gulping our body at that time are called Opportunistic Infections (OIs). To name a few we have meningitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancers, and lymphoma.

When To Know Whether One Has AIDS?

HIV + Opportunistic Infection = AIDS

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has prepared a list 20 OIs which are also ‘AIDS- defining conditions’. So if someone has HIV and is infected by one or more OIs, the person will be diagnosed with AIDS.

Humans first acquired HIV with blood contact with apes and gradually the disease got transmitted to more people through unprotected sex, used syringes, childbirth, breastfeeding. The virus can only stay alive in a fluid medium. So the transmission of virus through touch is overruled. Still, there are some myths regarding the disease that circles our society. The epidemic created such a cloud of fear that there still exist people who outcast HIV/AIDS infected and mistreat them. Even some hospitals and doctors are reluctant to treat people with HIV. In our land of laws, when it comes to HIV/AIDS infected people there is yet no specific law to curb the discrimination. But articles 14, 15, 16 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which deal with basic fundamental rights, protect those infected with the disease to a large extent.

As of now, HIV/AIDS is not curable, but by starting treatment at an early stage keeps the virus from multiplying and destroying the T-cells. But we do have anti-retroviral therapy which can help increase T-cells and protect from OIs, thereby delaying AIDS.

India houses 2.1 million people living with HIV that makes it third-largest in the world. Nationally, there are more men than women as HIV positive. But on a positive note, more and more volunteers are coming up to join the various awareness and welfare programs organized by the Indian Red Cross and various NGOs. It is important for the society to know how the deadly virus affects our body. Even our infinitesimal support can give them the courage to face the world and speak what they experience. They should be encouraged to speak their HIV status and not keep it in a veil. They should not miss out on basic amenities or be bullied or kept isolated. Let’s not make their battle rockier. This New Year let’s resolute to be the stigma buster.

A bartender pours Haywards 5000 strong beer, a product of SABMiller, into a glass at a restaurant in Mumbai August 28, 2013. Strong beer, with alcohol content of 5-8 percent, accounted for 83 percent of all beer sold in India last year, according to research firm Mintel, a figure industry players say is the biggest strong beer share of any major market. Brewers expect that to grow to 90 percent over the next three to five years. Picture taken August 28, 2013. To match INDIA-BEER/ REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY FOOD) - RTX13XH6

By Abhishek Jha

A bartender pours Haywards 5000 strong beer, a product of SABMiller, into a glass at a restaurant in Mumbai August 28, 2013. Strong beer, with alcohol content of 5-8 percent, accounted for 83 percent of all beer sold in India last year, according to research firm Mintel, a figure industry players say is the biggest strong beer share of any major market. Brewers expect that to grow to 90 percent over the next three to five years. Picture taken August 28, 2013. To match INDIA-BEER/ REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY FOOD) - RTX13XH6
Image source: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Punjab Health Minister Surjit Kumar Jyani on Monday was quoted as saying that he does not consider alcohol an intoxicant because “the government gives licences for manufacturing liquor,” they auction liquor vends, and because “liquor is consumed in the Army” and also at parties. To make matters worse, the Minister made this statement after inaugurating a de-addiction centre.

NSSO’s 2011-12 consumption data shows that, on an average, per capita alcohol consumption in Punjab is 141mL per week for toddy and country liquor and 50 mL per week for beer, foreign liquor, and wine. With respect to other states and UTs, Punjab stands 15th in the toddy and country liquor category and 14th in the beer, foreign liquor, and wine category. With the state already ailing from a serious drug problem (the Narcotic Control Bureau said earlier this year that the state accounts for half of the total drug-related cases in the country), this endorsement of sorts from the Health Minister himself can only harm the state more.

Moreover, given that harmful use of alcohol has serious health impacts, the comment by Jyani shows little commitment or leadership by him towards his duties as the Health Minister. Since policy interventions are helpful in reducing harmful use of alcohol, the WHO too identified leadership, awareness, and commitment as important for the reduction in a Global Status Report On Alcohol and Health published in 2014. Regulation of endorsement and advertisement- both of which might get a boost by the Minister’s statement- is another preventive measure noted in the report. Harmful use of alcohol is a serious problem that the Minister needs to take cognisance of. In 2012 alone, the WHO report says, “about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9% of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption.” Moreover, the report identifies harmful use of alcohol as a component cause of “more than 200 disease and injury conditions in individuals, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers and injuries.”

Apart from committing a factual error in denying that alcohol is an intoxicant, stating that he had a different opinion about alcohol was against even the policies that the Minister is supposed to follow. The Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla, for instance, had informed the parliament in April this year that India was the first country that adopted a national framework for prevention and control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) in line with the global framework. This global framework was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in May 2013 and had targets and indicators for each country and included a 5% relative reduction in alcohol use by 2020 and a 10% relative reduction by 2025 beginning from 2013.

Popular opinions and glamourising alcohol consumption is also a reason why young people take to alcohol. Drunken driving could be a fallout of this, despite being punishable under the Motor Vehicles Act, and the statistics for deaths due to drunken driving in India are alarming. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways told the Parliament in August this year, in response to a question, that drunken driving led to around 6,000 to 11,000 deaths country-wide every year between 2009 and 2013. There were also around 20,000 to 30,000 lakh accidents every year due to drunken driving between 2009 and 2013.

As a legislator and politician, Jyani can make and change opinions by his work and speech. As the Health Minister, he has even more of a mandate for driving opinion on alcohol and he should refrain from making such irresponsible statements.

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