New Delhi: Health is not just about eating healthy, according to World Health Organization (WHO). It is also about how the world can come together to help everyone live a long and healthy life. This could be through making new discoveries, new medicines and vaccines. With this very thought and to raise awareness about health issues and ensure health and healthcare facilities are accessible to everyone, everywhere, WHO marks April 7 every year as World Health Day.
Here is why the World Health Day holds so much importance for the World and India:
World Health Day: The History
World Health Day was kick-started as the day to mark the foundation of WHO. Back in 1948, countries of the world came together and founded WHO to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – so everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health and well-being. Two years later, in 1950, the first World Health Day was celebrated on April 7 and since then, it is observed every year on the same day.
Theme For World Health Day
Every year, World Health Day is marked with a unique theme. This year, WHO has decided to celebrate the day with the theme “Health For All”. This theme is in line with the thought that health is a basic human right and everyone must have access to the health services they need when and where they need without facing any financial hardships.
This year, also marks WHO’s 75th anniversary year, as a result to mark the occasion, WHO will also look back at public health successes that have improved quality of life during the last seven decades. WHO says “This year, we are seeing as an opportunity to get motivated and take adequate actions to tackle the health challenges of today ̶ and tomorrow.”
A Look At World’s Health Status
According to WHO data –
1. 30 per cent of the global population is not able to access essential health services even till today
2. Two billion people face catastrophic or impoverishing health spending, with significant inequalities affecting those in the most vulnerable settings
3. About 930 million people worldwide are at risk of falling into poverty due to out-of-pocket health spending of 10 per cent or more of their household budget
WHO feels that scaling up primary health care (PHC) interventions across low and middle-income countries could save 60 million lives and increase average life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030. However, it also underlines the fact that to make health for all a reality, the world needs:
• Individuals and communities to have access to high quality health services so that they can take care of their own health and that of their families
• Skilled health workers providing quality, people-centred care
• Policy-makers committed to investing in universal health coverage
WHO also feels that COVID-19 has set back every country’s journey to #HealthForAll. It states, “COVID-19 and other health emergencies, overlapping humanitarian and climate crises, economic constraints, and war, have made every country’s journey to #HealthForAll even more urgent.”
WHO has given a clarion call to the world and said that now is the time for leaders to take action and for civil society to hold leaders accountable.
Health In Numbers: India’s Perspective
According to the last available data in economic survey 2020-21, there is one doctor in India for a population of 1,456. This is way above the World Health Organisation recommendation of 1:1000 doctor to population ratio. As per National Health Profile India, 2019 data, only 11 of India’s 28 states meet the WHO recommendation of standard doctor to population ratio.
Not just this, the country is facing a huge burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that contribute to 66 per cent of all deaths occurring in India, as per World Health Organisation (WHO).
The major NCDs include cardiovascular diseases (heart diseases), cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. According to the report, in absolute numbers, in India, 60.1 lakh deaths occurred in 2019, most of which were preventable due to NCDs. WHO also reveals that the probability of premature mortality due to NCDs in India is about 22 per cent. In other words, 22 per cent of all people in India who are 30 years or older would die due to NCDs before their 70th birthday. Whereas, the global probability is 18 per cent.
However, India has made significant improvements in reducing Maternal and infant mortality ratio. According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) by the Registrar General of India (RGI), the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) of India has reduced from 130 per 100,000 live births in SRS 2014-16 to 103 per 100,000 live births in SRS 2017-19. As per National Health Family Survey, India has also shown improvements in some areas like Infant Mortality Rate has decreased to 35 from 41; Neonatal Mortality decreased to 25 from 30, Under five mortality rates decreased from 50 to 42.
However, the data highlighted another growing health crisis in India, which is – Obesity and Anaemia. According to the report, now double the percentage of women are affected by Anaemia than men. As per NFHS-5, 57 per cent of women (15-49 years) were anaemic in 2019-21, this is an increase of 3.9 per cent from 2015-16. In terms of obesity, the data said that obesity among women has increased from 21 per cent in 2015-16 to 24 per cent in 2019-20. Among men, it has risen to 23 per cent in 2019-20 from 19 per cent in 2015-16. And one of the key findings of NFHS-5 (2019-2020) was an increase in childhood obesity. The report states that obesity in India’s major states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, saw a rise in obesity among children.
What’s The Way Ahead
Talking about the future of health and healthcare around the world, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Former Chief Scientist, World Health Organization in one of the episodes of Science in Five with WHO said,
So, when I look 20, 25 years into the future, and I imagine a family living in a rural area in a village anywhere in the world. But what I see is that this family has a proper house to live in, that the problem of air pollution has been handled so that people are breathing clean air, that the family uses renewable or clean sources of energy so that there’s no longer need to use solid fuel for their heating and cooking needs, that they have running water, safe water, as well as improved sanitation facilities that would have reduced the risks of infectious diseases. I imagine a community health worker living in that village or nearby who would know every family in the village and who would have the tools to deal with the common health problems that families face from children to the elderly. And it’s not just about diagnosing and treating common diseases, but with much more of a focus on health promotion and preventive health care.
Highlighting the need for the world to rely on innovations, technologies and vaccines for fighting out the diseases and building healthier communities, Dr Swaminathan added,
I imagine that people of all ages would receive vaccines, not just children; that there would be a regular screening program for things like high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as common cancers; that there would be attention to rehabilitation so that people who have had a stroke or have some kind of disabilities or people, in fact, who have age related disorders like dementia actually have a place in the community where they can go, where they can get physiotherapy and rehabilitation, but also be able to spend quality time with other senior citizens.
Further highlighting the innovations which are needed and are expected in the near future that will help achieve the goal of health for all, Dr Swaminathan said,
So clearly that there will be many innovations, including ones that we cannot imagine just now. But I think of the existing technologies, I could say that a couple of them would play increasingly important roles. One of them is genomics, because we are getting a much better understanding now, in terms of disease prevention & treatment and also in the area of pathogen surveillance so that we keep track of the bugs in our environment and are aware of the ones that may cause disease in the future.
She also said that the world will have technologies like gene editing and the CRISPR Cas9 technologies that will make it more easy to do treatment of genetic diseases like sickle cell anaemia
Talking about the challenges and the way forward, she said,
I think some of the bigger challenges are going to be in the areas of equity and ethics. Equity, because we’ve seen in the recent past that new technologies take a very long time to reach people in low income countries. And the world has to do better at providing equitable access to health products, which are essentially life saving products.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.