Building toilets to eliminate hookworms and increasing haemoglobin levels in children would help in bringing down infant mortality in India
All things are artificial, for Nature is the art of God.”
— Sir Thomas Browne
One of my old students, Raghavendra Rao, has been working with American mothers who usually have full blood haemoglobin—the iron containing blood pigment which carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Raghavendra’s work deals with women that have marginally lowered haemoglobin levels (below 11gm%). In addition, all American babyfoods have much higher iron content than Indian ones. What of the babies born in India to mothers, especially in rural areas, whose haemoglobin content is very low, indeed? Premature babies’ brain development gets affected due to lack of iron supply. Americans cannot believe that patients with such low haemoglobin levels are alive! I keep telling my European friends that not only are they alive but kicking as well!
The above-mentioned observation is only a microscopic part of the holistic development of a child. A recent survey in India showed that 70% of Indian children have only 50% haemoglobin. Mothers are still worse. While the poor diet that the less fortunate get in the first place is bad, the bigger enemy is the hookworm that parks itself in the human duodenum (the first part of the smaller intestine), where most of the absorption of iron takes place. Most children in India harbour the hookworm, since most of us are exposed to the larvae of the worm in wet soil. One need not have a break in the skin to let the larva get in. The free-for-all defecation results in the ubiquitous presence of hookworm eggs and is made worse during rains.
While the vast majority of Indian children are born to mothers whose haemoglobin levels are abysmally low, in addition, they play host to our friend hookworm. This is a deadly combination. It is a wonder that, despite this, we have made a mark in the intellectual field internationally.
The story is no different in the sports field. We spend lots of money to train sportspersons in India, while their blood oxygen supply is stifled because of hookworms. How could we get gold medals in the Olympics? If our PT Ushas and others had their mother’s full-blooded haemoglobin, they would have beaten Roger Bannisters hollow. Many more would have come up in the intellectual field as also in sports.
Education of girls and empowering women economically, in addition, would obviate the need for hospitals and expensive hi-tech procedures in our country. This will also bring down our much needed birth rate as a bonus. We seem to be doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Building toilets to eradicate hookworms is not a very hi-tech stuff that cannot be done indigenously. One could easily transform our poor villages into heavens for people to migrate back from the cities that are bursting at the seams. Our villages still have the best environment without pollution. Such reverse acculturation is the need of the hour, if India has to go forward. Technological advances and economic prosperity are only an illusion of growth. Real growth comes from human growth, physically and spiritually.
Monetary economy, ignoring human development, would ruin us in the long run. North America is a good example. While Americans, who form a small fraction of the world’s population (a third of India’s), control and consume 85% of the world’s wealth and resources, the rest of mankind has to make do with just 15% of the resources. Yet, are Americans happy? Far from it. The biggest epidemics in that country are suicide and divorce. To cap it, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is widening by the day! Suppression, oppression and denial are the mothers of all kinds of terrorism that America is feeling the pinch of these days.
Should we not learn from history to build an egalitarian society with the modest means at our command? This is a great country with one of the largest human resources, as well as enormous natural resources. We have to build our human resource, physically and spiritually, to build India into a great nation of good human beings who love the whole world as their own large family.
Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS
For every kind of investment, judgement about the right timing and also luck are essential...
Do equity mutual fund schemes, which deviate from their benchmark stocks, deliver better...