Building a fairer, healthier world for everyone was the perfect theme for World Health Day 2021. Undoubtedly, every individual deserves the opportunity to benefit from good health and being able to access quality healthcare. As we recover from this unprecedented crisis, humanity can claim that it has made real progress only when we build a world that is inclusive in every aspect, particularly in creating equitable access to medical care, as that is where precious lives are at stake.
The first step towards this seemingly audacious goal is a small one that each of us needs to take. As responsible adults, our foremost responsibility is to take care of our well-being, as also take charge of the health of the community that we live and work in.
After a crushing year, the arrival of vaccines for Covid-19 ushered in hopefulness, all around the world. India is fortunate that it has valued capability to indigenously produce vaccines and that too at a record speed. At present, more than 90 million Indians have been vaccinated and now, all above the age of 45 can be inoculated.
However, it is rather unfortunate that vaccine hesitancy persists as the biggest challenge in inoculating individuals. A lot is being done by the government, healthcare organisations, and corporate houses to address myths and misinformation about vaccines, but many are just being stubborn and not taking the vaccine. There is a growing indifference to Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, which includes social distancing, wearing masks, hand sanitisation, and taking the vaccine if eligible, and that does not bode well for us. This is particularly worrying as over the last few weeks, Covid-related fatalities have been rising at almost the same pace as the spike in infections.
Let us bear in mind that millions of corona warriors are making great personal sacrifices and are working tirelessly to save lives. In the face of this, it seems people are being callously negligent in adhering to Covid-19 guidelines and that translates into a sheer lack of empathy for our fellow citizens.
Over the year, the pandemic weakened health gains made over several years, it pushed people into tremendous poverty, and amplified health inequities. According to an Oxfam report, as many as 12,000 people per day faced starvation in 2020. In India, like the rest of the world, millions lost jobs and unemployment is at an all-time high. Therefore, for us to bounce back from this crisis, the government’s responsibility is to ensure efficient distribution of vaccines and citizens’ is to take the vaccination, both imperative to restore economic recovery and protect precious lives.
In addition, over the year, a threat much bigger than Covid-19 has been growing stronger. It is the burgeoning prevalence of non-communicable diseases. A recent report mentioned that at present, one in ten Indians suffers from an NCD. This again is very worrying, as it signals a growing trend of unhealthy lifestyles, particularly amongst our youth. Furthermore, when a young individual suffers from an NCD, it impacts their productivity, their support to the family and also weakens India.
In less than a decade, India will have the largest working-age population in the world. Therefore, more than ever before, addressing NCDs must also become India’s collective and immediate imperative. According to preventative healthcare specialists, more than 70% of NCDs can be prevented and even reversed with simple lifestyle modifications or early-stage interventions. According to leading oncologists, many cancers are curable when diagnosed early on.
India cannot achieve its economic goals or make rapid progress if its populace suffers ill-health due to the pandemic or NCDs. We must be aware of the societal and economic impact of our ill-health and take prudent steps to avoid the onset of disease.
To repeat, this World Health Day the focus was to call for action to eliminate health inequities and bring people together to build a fairer, healthier world. Covid-19 has hit all countries hard, but the impact of NCDs can well be worse. Yet, on a brighter note, health is now a priority subject for India as also for humanity. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance broad-based health and prosperity. Let’s make sure we seize it.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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