World Health Day [WHD] marks the founding of the World Health Organisation [WHO] on April 7, 1956.
It is today an appropriate occasion for us to rededicate ourselves to the cause of our own health.
Let us make it an occasion to raise our awareness of key global health issues.
Innumerable projects on preventative health are conducted the world over, with catchy slogans and by-lines that remind us their role in protecting ourselves from various ills. It is, therefore, apt that the theme of the 2007 World Health Day is International Health Security. Its aim: urge governments, organisations, and businesses to "Invest in health, and build a safer future."
We are living in challenging times and health is naturally the most vital concern of all people.
As the world is shrinking with globalisation, jet-age travel and increasing trans- border trade, many existing and emerging diseases easily leap over national borders and threaten our collective security. SARS in 2003, chikungunya and avian influenza in 2005-2006, are some of the foremost examples — of how infections can spread from jungles, animals and livestock to people, at large, across many continents. Over the past 25 years, HIV/AIDS, as we all know, has reached every corner of the globe, adversely impacting economies and stability of many nations.
While natural disasters like earthquake, tsunami, and the like pose a formidable challenge, man-made disasters like climate change, global warming, environmental pollution, wars and accidents, and even bioterrorism are proving to be calamitous. This is not all. The emergence, in epidemic proportions, of non-infectious diseases - the so-called "Diseases of Civilisation" - like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke, osteoporosis, cancers, especially in our younger population, certainly mocks at the very pride of the scientific and technological advances made over the past millennia.
Protecting our healthy living is, therefore, an onerous task, considering the odds. And, how well do we all remember whatever happened to that heady slogan of "Health for All by 2000 AD?"
The onus is on us
With events like World Health Day, the World Health Organisation is making earnest efforts in close collaboration with all stakeholders - i.e., all of us - concerned. Our complex challenges concern not only governments, but also international bodies, NGOs, and the business community. In addition, problems like tsunami, SARS, avian influenza or chikungunya arouse global concerns - they also require effective responses through international co-ordination.
WHD is keyed to strengthen health systems and public health capabilities so as to effectively meet our challenges. Under the revised International Health Regulations, which will come into force in June 2007, WHO member states are obliged to prevent and control the spread of disease inside and outside their borders.
The need of the hour
More than regulations and legislations, it is local and individual efforts that go a long way in ensuring better health for our people.
Most communicable diseases can be effectively controlled by an alert local administration with enthusiastic participation of the community. On the other hand, preventing non-infectious "Diseases of Civilisation" would need commitment of individuals and families - through better food and lifestyle. So, in the final analysis, health, more than anything else, is everyone's own concern. It is something one can neglect at one's own peril.
Climate change and global warming are threatening the very survival of life on earth. Yet, major powers and governments have been aloof.
Increasing temperatures have led to disastrous consequences on water bodies, increased smog and triggered extreme weather events, including the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, floods and droughts. They also have the potential to disrupt ecosystems and result in loss of species diversity. Experts suggest that more than one million species are likely to be extinct by 2050.
Climate change can also have far-reaching impact on the occurrence and spread of diseases by changing the population of hosts and pathogens as well as influencing the transmission period. Recent worldwide increase in many vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and some forms of viral encephalitis, are being blamed - at least partly on warmer temperature conditions.
Global warming and health
Global warming, deforestation and poor management of water resources have resulted in a global shortfall of potable water supply. Without safe water, life, leave alone health, becomes difficult. Ensuring the availability of safe drinking water for all would become a major challenge for humanity in the years ahead.
While tackling such major issues like climate change and ensuring safe water supply would certainly need the support of the powers-that-be, we, the people, can sure take the initiative to save ourselves where our governments fail.
Here are two small examples: minimising the use of private vehicles and relying on public transport, whenever possible, and using the fuel more efficiently while driving, and other such small, but significant, efforts can contribute in a big way to reduce toxic emissions.
Similarly, the cautious use of water, and strict prevention of its wastage, and channelising ground water by rain water harvesting, allowing water to percolate down by not throwing plastic and such non-biodegradable material into the soil, and preventing pollution of water, would certainly ease our water woes. More than 100 years ago, Sir Ronald Ross, the Nobel laureate who first demonstrated how malaria is spread through mosquitoes, showed us the way to control the tiny insect's mighty bite by merely enthusing the community to clean up their neighbourhood from water stagnation. Remember - there were no pesticides then!
Last, but not the least. For any nation to prosper and remain healthy, in every sense of the word, educating the girl child is of paramount importance. No effort from the government and the community can be enough to ensure that this happens.
Your Health is in Your Hands
Modern diseases like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, osteoporosis and even cancer are increasingly being blamed on the food we eat and the way we live. Today, more than one-third of the population in urban areas is afflicted by these problems, and many have more than one of these problems.
It is interesting to note that these diseases, dangerous as they are, are much less common in people living in rural areas; they are almost non-existent among the tribes living in the jungles! The difference? Blame it on our urban food and lifestyle. So, if we have to prevent the spread of major "killer" diseases, we have to return to our Mother Nature - and, avoid eating everything that is not our food.
What does this mean? Refined and processed grains and their products, milk and milk products, sugar and sweets, salt and all kinds of junk-food that are marketed "smartly" should be off our menu. We would also do well to eat lots of vegetables, sprouts, fish and nuts, like walnut and almonds, or drink green tea, and the like, that provide omega-3 fats, anti-oxidants, trace minerals and vitamins in plenty.
Eat only when hungry and finish your supper by 7 pm - at least three hours before going to bed. Also remember - regular exercises like swimming, or walking, for at least 30 minutes a day, will help you keep well-tuned, agile, and healthy.
While WHO, governments and other agencies are trying to do their part best, it is just as imperative for us to invest in our own health - by living more naturally and minimising the abuse of our natural resources.
This is our best bet for the future.
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