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This World Health Day, How Can We Achieve Healthcare For All?

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“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” — WHO’s Constitutional Principle

Today is World Health Day. It is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on April 7 and observed by all member States of the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 1948, the WHO held the First World Health Assembly that decided to celebrate April 7 of each year as World Health Day, with effect from 1950. World Health Day is held to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance within global health each year. This year’s theme is ‘Building a Fairer and Healthier World for Everyone’.

The world is facing the Covid-19 pandemic, the sixth pandemic since the great influenza of 1918. Many nations are now entering the second and third wave of the deadly virus. Human beings have been confined to their homes. The pandemic has destroyed the socio-economic framework of all nations.

According to the WHO, the Covid-19 pandemic has undercut recent health gains, pushed more people into poverty and food insecurity, and amplified gender, social and health inequities. More than one billion people living in informal settlements or slums are facing increased challenges in preventing infection and transmission of the coronavirus.

It is said that environmental degradation and ecological imbalance due to anthropogenic activities are responsible for such pandemics. Population explosion, urbanisation, industrialisation, agriculture expansion and intensification, deforestation, household explosion, unsustainable economic activities and change in land-use are the main factors that are equally responsible for climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics. Such unsustainable human activities bring wildlife and humans into closer contact and increase chances of disease spillover.

For example, deforestation is accelerating the transmission of infectious diseases by vector displacement. Such vector animals, which carry viruses, move into regions where they’ve never existed before and increase our vulnerability to diseases. This creates a greater possibility of dispersion of zoonotic diseases such as HIV, Ebola, Nipah, Zika, current Covid-19 etc. Many viruses exist harmlessly with their vector or host in forests because that host has co-evolved with viruses they carry.

The frequency of disease outbreaks, deforestation and biodiversity loss has been increasing rapidly since 1980. Between 1980 and 2013, there were 12,012 recorded outbreaks of 215 human infectious diseases, comprising 44 million individual cases in 219 nations.

The problem of climate change is also worsening this situation. According to the Global Carbon Project, atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2019 is 47% above the pre-industrial levels.

According to the WHO, climate variability has a direct influence on the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases; the disease spillover from animals to humans may increase as the climate becomes warmer.

How Can We Control Environmental Degradation?

Our preparedness towards controlling environmental degradation and emerging diseases will decide our future. For all this, we have to reduce our greed towards nature. It’s our responsibility to take steps to make Earth a habitable planet. For this, following steps should be taken:

1. Reduce your dependence on fossil fuel-based energy. Increase the use of renewable sources of energy. The IPCC 2018 report said that if global emissions are reduced by 45% by 2030, and brought down to net-zero by 2050, then there is only a 50% chance of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C in the 21st century.

2. Ban unsustainable logging. Forested areas should not drop below 33%.

Pollution India
There should be a provision of compulsory plantation, sustainability, rainwater harvesting, circular economy, and sanitation and energy conservation in new housing societies because these are built by destroying the ecosystem of the area. 

3. Conservation of habitats and ecological niches. 

4. Promote green and sustainable infrastructure. 

5. Conserve water to save every drop of water. Water Budget should be an essential part of everyday life and planning.

6. Plantation of local species should be our priority. This will be helpful in biodiversity protection. Care After Plantation (CAP) should be ensured at the grassroots level by officials and citizens.

7. Pooling, cycling and walking should be part of our daily life. 

8. There should be a Pollution Emancipation Force in every school, village, urban area, municipality and office. This force will help in sanitation and cleanliness.

9. A good Traffic management system to reduce air pollution. 

10. Promoting awareness about environment conservation and sustainability through non-political ‘Climate Movement’ at grassroots level. 

11. There should be a provision of compulsory plantation, sustainability, rainwater harvesting, circular economy, and sanitation and energy conservation in new housing societies because these are built by destroying the ecosystem of the area. 

12. Health and medicine departments should be made more advanced to cope with epidemics and pandemics. Research and development should be given priority.

A recent EPA (Environment Protection Agency, USA) study found that every dollar invested in clean air resulted in a $30 benefit. In Los Angeles, six common pollutants dropped an average of 73% and the gross domestic product grew by 324%. These steps reduced the loss of workdays due to illness, lowered medical costs, lowered the premature deaths associated with particulate matter, improved health and productivity, improved the crop and timber yields, and encouraged tourism, recreation and healthy living.

If we want to make Earth a heaven with healthy ecosystems, forests, biodiversity and human life, then we shall have to take every step to reduce our carbon footprints, encourage sustainability, transform towards renewable energy, reduce our dependence on fossil energy, implement the circular economy, stop deforestation and stop the loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and their habitats. Every world citizen will have to work as a “messenger of nature” and “green soldier”. Let’s come and make a better world, safe for all.

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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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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