Life expectancy is a narrow way to judge quality of healthcare and lifestyles
If you have been to a medical college, you would have heard of ‘life expectancy’ many times over. People have misconceptions about this concept. During a lecture at Hyderabad, to a group of intelligent and educated people, I told them that life expectancy is only a statistical term and should not be equated with life span. One audience member, a chartered accountant, got quite upset and insisted that I was wrong in my understanding of the concept, that they were one and the same. Moreover, he thought that it was his specialty, since the ideas are oft-used in the actuarial field. A few days later, he called to say that he was mistaken, indeed.
Decades ago, I was surveying blood pressure among people, to see the effect of the environment on blood pressure, I used to go to my old village and later to larger cities.
What surprised me was that the majority of elderly people in that village had very little contact with doctors and hospitals. Many of them had not taken any drugs or vaccinations in their lives and they were apparently very healthy and working very hard. They could make do with what nature had to offer by way of herbal drugs for their minor ailments like our homebred cats and dogs do. I used to be curious when, on my daily walks, I used to see cats and dogs eating grass, but now I know that we could learn from them. Our villagers those days loved one another and helped each other. That is the true definition of health, i.e., enthusiasm to work and enthusiasm to be compassionate. I was curious to know more about it as until then, I thought (I was taught and made to believe as my seniors did) that unless one goes for regular check-ups and takes preventive drug ,treatments diseases could kill one at a very young age.
After a good amount of research, I found that aboriginal races like the American Indians, the Innus of Canada and our own forest dwelling forefathers, did not have any contact with modern medicine, neither did they suffer from any major illnesses as we do now. As per the records of those times available on leaves and stone inscriptions, the major causes of death were old age and predation. That was when I coined a neo-logism. Here I would like to introduce a new term, which may anger many people. “Health expectancy”—the number of years a newborn baby can live without the need for doctors and hospitals. Further thinking and study on my part revealed that this is the highest in our country. Later in life, I saw this phenomenon myself in the villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Then I hypothesised that health expectancy is highest in our country and many other poor countries, but lowest in the ‘developed’ West, especially USA. Many children there start on drugs right from infancy, with lorry-loads of all kinds of vaccines (nearly 30 vaccines are administered in the USA, in the first six months of life). The thought of those 30-odd vaccines trying to coax the poor 150 genes in the 9th chromosome that oversee the immune response in the body frightens me. I can understand one vaccine at a time cajoling the immune system to produce antibodies again the desired germ, but common sense tells me that 30 of them almost simultaneously nudging a gene might send those genes into a tizzy. Now, many scientists believe that one could avoid reductionist chemicals getting into the system as they are rejected by the human body’s intelligence. Douglas C Wallace, a professor of genetics, showed in his epoch making study using a highly sophisticated computer chip, the MIT chip, that the body throws those many of the drugs we pump into our body into the liver to get destroyed. The human body thinks that they are one among the new poisons. That is the basis of the famous ‘first pass effec’” in pharmacology. He also showed that this phenomenon does not happen with holistic herbal drugs (Genetics 2008; 179: 727). In short, health expectancy would be a good parameter for public health officials to depend on, rather than life expectancy in future. God save mankind from chemical poisons.
“There are three types of lies—lies, damn lies, and statistics.” — Benjamin Disraeli
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.)