To the moon with love!

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"" MD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRCPG, FRCPI, FACC, FAMS, is presently the Chairman of State Health Society, Govt. of Bihar, India, Visiting Prof. Cardiology at The Middlesex Hospital Medical School – University of London, Affiliate Prof. of Human Health – Northern Colorado University, Visiting Prof. Indian Institute of Advanced Studies – Shimla,  Retd.  Vice Chancellor, MAHE University – Manipal. Prof Hedge regularly gives talks on AIR, Doordarshan, BBC and Zee TV, London. 

"Wisely and slow; they stumble who run fast." — William Shakespeare

The daily budget of the Pentagon is a whopping $1.79 billion! I was calculating to find out as to how much it costs to provide a medicated mosquito net to every living African citizen today to avoid over a million deaths due to malaria annually. To my surprise, I realized that it costs a little less than $ 1.2 billion for all the nets! If the Pentagon spending takes a day off once a year, say on July 4th, we could provide every African with a mosquito net to save a million lives annually. Does this thought stimulate you? Do a million human deaths mean anything to you at all? If it does, then you could understand my logic of saying that to cure our major health problem in India-malnutrition-it costs just about one tenth the cost of sending a man to the moon!

The present load of malnourished children in India is 67 million. On an average about 6000 of them die daily! We have much higher total number of malnourished children as compared to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The percentage of malnutrition in children was 47% in 1997 when the Government started the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). After a gap of ten years in 2007 the percentage has just come down to 46.4%. Obviously there are solid reasons for this lack of response. Let us not go into them here. While the medical profession and the powers that be are lost in aping the western patterns of medical care here (mistakenly referred to as health care) what we need, in fact, is what the American did in the 1930s.

American health status in the 1930s was just about the same as ours today with malnutrition, poverty, insanitary living conditions and economic depression. The key role in elevating their health status was played by the civil engineers that provided clean drinking water to every citizen, adequate sanitary facilities, clean dwelling places and proper nutrition as also education and economic empowerment of the poor masses by motivated statesmen. The role of the medical care world in that change of scenario was estimated to be just about 3.4%. Most of the latter was in the area of emergency care and corrective surgery. Can we not learn a lesson or two here? Today America suffers from over-medicalisation of people’s lives. In the US today the medical establishment seems to be the leading cause of death and disability with cancer and heart attacks following in that order! I don’t think we are learning any lessons.

We are trying to do what America is doing now and make the same mistake. We need the 1930 model of American health care today and not the 2008 model! So is the case in every other field. Let us go back to the moon. Why did America send the first man, Neil Armstrong, to the moon? In this week’s edition of the Scientific American there is a story about the conspiracy theory of moon landing by the US 1969. The US flag, which Armstrong was seen planting on the moon’s surface, was fluttering in the air! There is no atmosphere like ours on the moon for breeze to make the flag flutter! It was just to compete with Russia in the space race.

Why are we sending men to the moon? In my opinion it is to satisfy the ego of some of our scientists to show to the world that they are not inferior to anybody and many of our politicians to think that they have achieved something great. But for those two achievements, I think we gain precious little by going to the moon, repeating what others have already done. Let us remember that competing with others is only mediocrity while competing with oneself is excellence. Let India achieve excellence in the world by eradicating poverty and stopping avoidable malnutrition deaths in the first place before going to the moon. That will be true progress. Let us also remember that recent research shows that we are genetically endowed to be altruistic. If we are not altruistic, we might invite health problems in the long run.

Our netas and our captains of the industry go to town thumping their chests that they have got into the globalisation. If one looks at it philosophically, doesn’t this world look like going round in circles? We have had globalization before the Second World War when one could sit in one’s house in London and order anything from anywhere in the world and get it! The Second World War did change all that by dividing the world into nations thereby taking man away from man. Now we are trying another type of globalization where there is no equality. The American hegemony seems to be crumbling with Russia boldly occupying some territory of Georgia where Americans wanted their zone of influence. Globalisation might make life costlier for the common man as is already evident in India where inflation rates have reached double digit mark. In the field of pharmaceuticals this kind of globalization might prove to be very costly for the poor nations. "He who hath shall be given" is true in this case too.

Man today needs to go to the neighbor’s house with a smile on his face to have a cup of tea there. All our "so-called" development has been external development without commensurate development internally to take man to a higher plane of existence where these petty matters like going to the moon do not seem important. Internal engineering to make man more tranquil, happy and to practice universal compassion would be a great step in the right direction. Who else, other than India, could give that moral leadership to the world? We were the leaders in this world up until the 12th Century when people looked up to India for guidance in the area of man’s spiritual development. We have to regain that status. We must have our priorities right to make true progress. Our first priority is to give every new born child the fundamental right to live here in good health and contribute to progress through hard work. The universal connectedness of human species is to be practiced to be of any use. It is only after we have taken positive steps to provide a healthy living condition for our citizens could we think of sending man to the moon or any other planet where others have not dared to go so far. That could show to the world that our scientists are better than the rest and our netas as the best of the species.

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart" — William Wordsworth.

Author: Dr. B. M. Hegde- India

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