This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nitya Saxena. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Before You Swallow That Antibiotic, Read This

Manish* lives with his wife and kid in a Mumbai suburb. He works as academic staff in an educational institute while his wife, Chaya*, is a paramedic staff in a hospital. Recently, they came back tired from a fun trip to Goa. To bounce back to work they usually rely on “energy shots” which they deem fit as per Chaya’s knowledge. What are these energy shots? Injections of an antibiotic (Monocef) and a steroid (Dexa). Both are very much aware that it is steroid but unaware that it may lead to kidney problems and osteoporosis.

Asha* was on a trip abroad with her son and daughter-in-law’s family. She had chronic irritable bowel syndrome for which she was prescribed an antibiotic in India. Suddenly, she realised that she was running out of tablets and the search began in local medicine shops in Bali (Indonesia), followed by another hunt in Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Every shop denied her the medicine, stating the unavailability as it falls in the category of prescribed medicine. Asha managed to see a doctor in Kuala Lumpur where the doctor explained how the medicine can weaken the intestines and may stop working in the long run. He recommended switching to simple probiotics and antacid instead. When insisted, he said that only an IBS specialist has the right to prescribe this antibiotic. But guess what? The switch worked, Asha is doing just fine with probiotics.

Niyati* was a Ph.D. student and stayed in a college hostel. One night, when she had a slight cold, she searched for cetirizine (an anti-allergen) in the hostel. Mansi*, her friend, offered her another medicine called azithromycin (a strong antibiotic) and said, “This is what I take whenever I have a cold or throat pain.” Niyati’s parents are doctors, so she understands the importance of completing an antibiotic dose which otherwise leads to drug resistance. The incidence led to knowledge sharing between the two for social good. But she thought about the thousands out there who still pop antibiotics like candy!

Tanvi* was at the Mumbai International Airport, ready to fly to Delhi. She had had her wisdom tooth removed a day before and hence was experiencing some inflammation in the gums. With a doctor’s prescription, she approached the reputed pharmacy at the airport only to find that they did not have the prescribed medicine. Instead, the pharmacist offered a combination of dychlophinac which she bought. A few minutes later she discovered that the drug provided has been recently banned in India. She went back and complained, to which pharmacist responded by returning her money and said that we have received the ban list but it is still under consideration. Please do not complain.

All four stories signal the rampant use of over-the-counter drugs. What is the other common thread among them? The stories are about the educated section of society. So who is at fault? Doctors, government policies, pharmacies, or consumers? Let us get into their shoes one by one.

We consumers often refrain from going to doctor for possibly two reasons: 1) it saves on doctor’s fee, or 2) we trust our local pharmacist for a diagnosis; 3) once we see a doctor, we see it fit to use the same prescription for a lifetime.

Why do doctors prescribe heavy medicines? 1) Maybe to provide quick relief and gain a patient’s trust; 2) Because of their beneficial ties with medical representatives of giant pharma companies; or 3) Their own lack of knowledge.

Why is the government so lackadaisical about it? 1) Changing prescription rights is a tough nut to crack; 2) There is a heavy monitoring cost; and 3) the lobbying from strong pharmaceutical companies and medical council.

. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

The above list of reasons appear like a complex network that has given rise to the current situation. Of course, there can be a solution to this complex issue, but let us limit this article for people like you and me: the general public.

It is said that half-knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have multiple sources to gain incomplete medical information: the internet; interaction with “someone who works at the hospital”; our local buddy pharmacist; neighbours with similar illnesses as us.

Firstly, we should understand that self-medication is a dangerous recourse. Popping a pill without complete knowledge about it can weaken your immune system and deposit toxins inside the body. After all, medicines are nothing but chemicals. Second, once you take an incomplete dose of antibiotics, it makes the disease-causing microbe stronger, and causes drug resistance. And stronger microbes are a problem for society as a whole, as they are untreatable. Multiple drug resistance is a real problem which has killed many people as drugs simply stop working! Mind, it takes almost 10 years for a new drug discovery. To combat antibiotic resistance is among the top priority of World Health Organization. Third, always be a vigilant consumer. If you witness a similar scenario Tanvi’s, blow the whistle without a second thought. Pharmaceutical companies often push banned medicines to refrain from loss. Your awareness can save you, and others.

Medicine is a cure, and not a prevention. And prevention can only come from healthy habits, which are certainly lighter on your pocket.

Please do not be your own doctor!

Take care.

*Names changed to protect identity.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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