Prevention better than Cure? Or Not?

Posted on April 12, 2010

Mireille Rodrigues:

Ever so often, one reads in the newspapers about different medical drives to immunize people against a disease or affliction. It is expected that almost 4.2 million people around the world could benefit from these vaccinations and inoculations in the next few years and avoid diseases that affect and kill many of those in the same situation. But, besides having a sigh of relief for the now unaffected people, one rarely hears about the not-so-rosy side of the matter when these medications lead to illness or even death in some of their patients.

In India, many drives are targeted at the population of the very young or sometimes, just a select group of people. The idea here is to arrange for vaccines to protect those who are unable to afford or access the medication. Stepping up healthcare for the effected is comparatively more tedious and demanding, not to mention expensive. Therefore, prevention is a very effective way to proceed and mass immunizations are an ideal means of addressing a large population at one go. But, one has to keep several considerations in mind. One is that the cost of these vaccines is considerably scaled down from their normal price. This might lead to a sizable reduction in quality. Hence, reducing in effectiveness and even posing a threat to the public if minimum safety is not adhered to. Even these low rates have some NGOs struggling for finances to deal with as many people as possible. Next, one should keep in mind the medium of administering the doses. While there have not been any major complaints regarding the syringes used, for example, it could pose as a threat in future. Also, most drives and camps are targeted at those sections of society that have the least access to education and awareness about health issues. They might not be fully aware of appropriate procedures or health measures, much less technical details. So, it falls upon the authorities to ensure that standards are being followed. The trust of the people rests with them.

A non-Government Organization recently sponsored a vaccination drive for young girls in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh against cervical cancer. But, besides the doses being targeted at only two strains of the cancer among hundreds, more than 120 girls fell ill after being administered the doses. Their parents were assured of the practicality and the functionality of the doses in terms of side effects and long-term effects in addition to being warned of the costs at the private level. Therefore, it seemed more practical to get the doses from the foundation itself. There are now allegations of the drive being undertaken for clinical trial purposes as opposed to an immunization program. Many villagers enrolled because of the tag of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) accompanying the drive, but the results from this venture were clearly unexpected and uncalled for.

In another issue, when spurious AIDS detection kits were being used, the spread of AIDS might have gone up because people would think that they were safe when they weren’t. Even after the World Health Organization reported on the inadequacies of the kit, the findings were initially suppressed. It therefore took forever to deal with what had happened. AIDS is set to kill 31 million Indians by 2025. In these times, when this condition has reached pandemic proportions, more care should be taken, at least, from the authority side at the most basic detection level.

In the wake of the H1N1 virus all over the world last year, experts cautioned the public against self-medicating. Many people treated themselves either as an attempt to undermine the severity of the disease, or because they were ignorant. Dangers of self-medicating included developing resistance to heavy antibiotics that were used to treat the bug. Recommended preventative measures were related to basic personal and public hygiene like washing hands and covering ones mouth while sneezing. It was the much same case with the SARS flu years ago and the other epidemics that have hit the world.

The Indian Government actively joined the global fight against Polio over a decade ago. Polio drops are now administered to children under the age of 5 years and occurrence of the disease, in general, has drastically decreased. Although, the cases are few and far between, rare incidents have cropped up where the treated child has fallen severely ill and even died. Polio is still a threat in India, which is one of the very few countries where it still exists.

To conclude, one cannot doubt the merit of immunization schemes. However, interacting with large gatherings can provide immense scope for damage if one is not careful. It is up to those who are in charge and those who are educated enough to make certain that the people’s safety is ensured.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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