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Thursday, December 26, 2002

Recently, a doctor friend of mine in Hyderabad commented that too many people were approaching him with respiratory disorders. This can be partly explained by the winter cold. But in a substantial measure our illnesses are man-made. Here are some facts for you. A study by a reputed public health journal pointed out that 30-50 % of twin cities population is suffering from allergy, asthma and other respiratory disorders. Other studies also pointed out that almost 25% of school children in the city are suffering from asthma and other respiratory disorders such as bronchitis. Most of these cases are related to air pollution. It is improper urban planning, or rather lack of it, which results in appalling traffic congestions. And proliferation of industries near residential areas is also contributing to high levels of air pollution.

Apart from high incidence of asthma, haphazard urban growth is a source of other health disorders such as malaria and gastro-enteritis. You have open nalas that are not spared from encroachment and Musi river, right in the middle of the city, into which untreated wastewater and other solid waste are let out. To top it all, our wastewater treatment capacities are grossly inadequate. India Development Report 2002 states that Hyderabad generates 373 million liters/ day (mld) of wastewater, whereas the treatment capacity available is a mere 115 mld. It is this untreated wastewater in open nalas and Musi river that has become a veritable breeding ground for mosquitoes and the consequences are there for everyone to see. Every other person you know suffered from malarial fever and Hyderabad had the honour of recording three cases of the dreaded Dengue fever. The response from the government on the reports of Dengue fever was appalling. And government of AP does not even have proper equipment to diagnose the disease. Well, that’s “Pharmabad” or the would be “ Bio-tech” capital of India for you!

The health scenario in Hyderabad is further worsened by governmental apathy. For instance, a survey carried out by Centre for Media Studies (CMS) reports that the staff of government hospitals in Hyderabad is more corrupt than their counterparts in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Calcutta. Large sections of population are forced to visit private practitioners at higher expense. And a single episode of hospitalization drives over 25 % of people below poverty line!

So, what can be done to improve our health in Hyderabad and other cities and towns? Broadly, three approaches are necessary. First, we need to recognize that medical treatment is not the same as health care. Community health can be safeguarded only by proper preventive care and public health policies and investment. Second, we need to give up our obsession with excessive specialization, and focus on accessible and affordable family care. There are many community-based urban health care models to emulate. For instance, the Voluntary Health Services (VHS) project in Chennai. And finally, good city governance does not mean grandiose projects and image management. We need effective larval control, anti-pollution measures, sewage treatment and protected water supply. All these common sense steps do not cost much. But any change requires knowledge, discipline, teamwork and foresight. Can we summon these qualities and enhance the quality of our own lives?

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