The Indian case: health policies need to keep pace with public health literacy

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Exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Ramya Jayasimha, a third year medical student at Bangalore Karnataka. Ms Jayasimha is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA).

The incidence of disease across the world has been on the decline from more than half a century, with better healthcare, better technology and new scientific advances popping up left right and center. From developing to developed, healthcare as a whole is improving everywhere. With health being a national priority rather than an individual concern, it is mutually beneficial for both national productivity as well as individual quality of life. Thus, it is imperative that a country’s health system be easy to access and navigate.

The purview of problems that a country faces is ever-changing ad needs to be reflected in the health policy of a country. India, for example has a health policy that focuses primarily on secondary prevention rather than primordial. With an exceptionally large infectious disease burden, the focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, respiratory tract infections and HIV. Some countries have mostly eliminated tuberculosis by improving sanitation, overcrowding and isolating the infected. However, tuberculosis affects the poor of India, who do not have the means of providing a safe environment for themselves, nor does the government provide one for them.

The crux of the issue seems to be that most of the affected live in areas where access and awareness of medical treatment is insufficient. The affected live in close proximity to the vulnerable, do not seek treatment early, and discontinue medication leading to disastrous consequences. The policy of treat, rather than prevent, in India has led to the steady emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis that may affect even the currently immune.

This is where health policy needs to step in. The basic step of ensuring a healthy population is by making sure that the nation knows how to keep itself healthy in the first place. A countries citizens cannot magically accept all proposals put forth by policymakers; intrinsic biases and resistance to change, as well as downright ignorance will always exist. Often times, people will be deeply distrustful if the government tries to impose decrees on something as personal as their own health.

With increasing tensions all over the world with regards to health care, escalating costs and political unrest, educating the population on navigating the healthcare system and successfully getting treated is all the more important.

The way forward, thus, is not a forceful shoving of knowledge down one’s throat, but rather a mutually respectful dialogue. It has to be acknowledged that a citizen’s personhood cannot be ignored in view of the bigger picture. Policies have to gradually cause a transition of the public perception rather than blaring information from every street corner.

Health policies outlined by a government cannot frame items carte blanche, without public input and concerns. What lawmakers feel is important may bring up different sentiments from the public altogether. Thus, policy making and public literacy of health issues must go hand in hand to ensure effective health care for a country’s people.

About the author

Ramya Jayasimha

Ms Ramya Jayasimha is a third year undergraduate medical student at Bangalore Karnataka. Her world views have been shaped by both India and Singapore since she has lived in both countries. She is also an officer of the Medical Students Association of India. She is currently involved in, and want to pursue a career in medical research. She is very fascinated by the way worldly events are influenced by the most mundane of occurrences, and want to investigate phenomena to their source. She enjoys art and Indian classical dance.

 

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