Global health: Embracing ‘My Health, My Right’

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Global health: Embracing ‘My Health, My Right’

Monday, 08 April 2024 | Sudha Sharma

Over half of the world's population lacks access to essential health services despite health being recognised as a human right

The theme for World Health Day 2024, “My health, my right,” underscores a fundamental human entitlement: access to quality healthcare. This year, the focus lies on ensuring that everyone, regardless of location, has the opportunity to lead a healthy life.

It’s staggering to acknowledge that despite health being recognised as a human right in the constitution of at least 140 countries, more than 4.5 billion people—more than half of the world’s population—were not fully covered by essential health services in 2021 (WHO). This sobering reality, alongside the images we consume through televisions and social media, demands reflection.

“My health, My right” encapsulates hope for millions around the world whose health is increasingly at risk. These words also spur stakeholders responsible for health to intensify their efforts and investments in safeguarding these rights. In addition to the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, “Good Health” must also be recognised.

Indeed, health is a cornerstone without which all aspirations and successes in life remain incomplete.

But what does ‘health’ truly entail? Is it merely the absence of disease, or is it a holistic state of physical, mental, and social well-being conducive to a fulfilling life? If the latter holds true, it beckons us to pursue transformative changes in our quest for health.

What threatens our health? Is it the specter of both old and emerging diseases, the horrors of natural and man-made disasters, or the environmental degradation wrought by our dependence on fossil fuels? These perils inflict not only physical suffering and mortality but also take a toll on mental well-being and financial stability.

Whose responsibility is health? While it’s commonly assumed that governments are responsible for providing treatment to those affected by diseases, achieving Health for All requires more than just reactive measures. It necessitates proactive efforts and individual responsibility. Each of us holds a stake in safeguarding our health, a duty as significant as asserting our rights.

Diseases can be broadly classified into infectious diseases, lifestyle diseases, nutritional diseases, maternal and child health-related diseases, and others. Today, we spotlight non-communicable diseases, which account for approximately 63% of mortality in our country, where prevention holds the most promise.

As individuals, how can we tackle this daunting challenge? Diseases like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cancers pervade our conversations, infiltrating households worldwide. However, these diseases share common risk factors: unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and tobacco and alcohol consumption. Addressing these modifiable risk factors offers health promotion and disease prevention for both the non-diseased and those already afflicted.

As a doctor who has dedicated a significant portion of my life to training and caring for patients, I emphasise that embracing a healthy lifestyle isn’t merely about taking medication — it’s a commitment to nurturing our bodies and minds. Five golden rules underscore this journey:

1.    Eat wisely: Opt for whole, unprocessed foods, limit sugar, salt, and fats, and prioritise fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit snacking between meals and reduce consumption of tea, coffee, and packaged foods. Two meals a day and an early dinner can be invaluable for health.

2.    Exercise: Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine, benefiting both body and mind. Aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise or yoga daily.

3.    Say NO to tobacco and alcohol: Reject these harmful habits that take a heavy toll on health and well-being.

4.    Reduce stress: Embrace stress-relief strategies like yoga, and meditation, or seek professional help to foster mental resilience.

5. Prioritise sleep: Cultivate healthy sleep habits for restful nights and energised days.

The biggest impediment to adopting these habits often lies in our smartphones, perpetuating sedentary lifestyles. It’s time to prioritise our health over screen time and reclaim control over our well-being.

Understanding the impact of these interventions is crucial. For instance, the DASH diet can significantly reduce blood pressure, while weight loss can substantially lower the risk of developing diabetes. Excuses like ‘we knew this already’ or ‘they’re too difficult to follow’ are insufficient. Prioritising health requires commitment, not convenience.

“My health, My Right” was chosen to champion the right of everyone, everywhere to access quality health services, education, and information, alongside safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working conditions, and freedom from discrimination. Let us pledge that governments and communities will collaborate to make a difference, ensuring wellness is as vital an agenda as illness, because ‘My Health is also My Responsibility’.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Community Medicine, MLB Medical College Jhansi UP, views are personal)

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