Time to build health sector brick by brick

Time to build health sector brick by brick

Food adulteration is a reason why India has the largest number of people in the world with organ failure.

The United Nations recently projected that India’s population would surpass China in 2022 and it would be home to 1.5 billion people in 2030. If we look at the present health condition of the majority of people, the population growth in the country will add only to human misery.


The “Global Nutrition Report 2016” ranks India at 114 out of 132 countries in stunted growth. Stunting in India is at 38.7% compared with Germany (1.3%) and Chile (1.8%). It ranks 170 out of 185 countries in prevalence of anaemia among 48.1% of women in their reproductive age. India is home to one third of world’s malnourished children. In Global Hunger Index 2014, India ranks 120th among 128 developing countries.  

It’s an irony that India, with 20 agro-ecological regions and 60 sub-zones which produce the world’s largest variety of crops, fails to meet the nutritional needs of its people. It is one among the 17 countries which have nearly 70% of the world’s biodiversity. The world’s largest variety of aquatic food is found here. Though nature has blessed India with the widest range of food, it has depleted its backup due to ignorance, mismanagement and infatuation with foreign development concepts.

In the 1970s, US official William Gaud coined the word green revolution which propagated the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In the 1960s and 1970s, Indian farmers were persuaded to use chemical inputs to increase their productivity and in the process lost much of their edible herbs and shrubs which once served as food backup in drought situation. Continuous loss of buffer food stock resulted in severe drought situation in 2016 which affected 330 million people across 10 states.

Excessive use of chemical fertilisers, insecticides, weedicide, pesticides and unscientific farm mechanisation erode away 5,334 million tonnes of precious top soil every year. The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) found the non-judicious and imbalanced use of inorganic fertilisers has adversely affected the soil fertility which let disappear many edible plant species.

Over the years, the aquatic food has depleted very fast. The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed 39 species from Kerala as endangered which include the Periyar Latia, Nilgiri Danio, Cardamom Garra, Periyar Garra and Anamalai Sucker Catfish. Over-damming of rivers and the use of advanced deep sea fishing technology maximises profit for traders and makes protein-rich aquatic food costly for general public.

Small and marginal farms still cover about 85% of the operational land holdings and 44% of the total cultivated area in the country. Dedicated agricultural research, proper input management, quality extension services, transparent marketing facility and combined bargaining power of farmers can only restore the food back up. Gone are the days when small and marginal farmers preserved the crop diversity which once met the nutritional need of the people.

Change in food habits also causes nutrition loss among the people. The protein rich korak-kan kali, methi ragi roti, the angaya podi, sesame rice of south India, the energetic dal bati churma of Rajasthan specially made for Rajput soldiers, rice and flattened rice with red husk containing rich fibre, vitamin B1 and B2, iron and calcium, the highly nutritious pakhal bhaat, mandia jau, chuda-dahi, chhatua, palua of Odisha and hundreds of other nutrition-rich indigenous foods of different states are no longer eaten by the new generation.

Junk food

Entry of fast and junk food, sedentary lifestyle, disappearance of playgrounds and stressful urban life reflect on people’s health. People’s loss of interest in labour intensive economic activities like agriculture, horticulture, animal rearing, handloom and fishery etc also attributes to health crisis. 

According to the Global Status Report on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD)-2014, NCDs contributed to 5.8 million deaths accounting for 60% of all deaths in India. Major NCD diseases include: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes due to unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, alcohol use etc.

Indians’ poor health reflects in their performance in the Oly-mpic Games. Norman Pritchard represented India in 1900 Oly-mpic alone and won two silver medals. After 116 years, in Rio, a 118-member Indian contingent won a lone silver and a bronze. The performance in the Games speaks a lot about the country’s honesty, discipline, strength, stamina, endurance, motivation level and, above all, patriotism.  

Though India is top producer of milk, livestock, fish and the second largest producer of fruit, vegetables, rice, wheat and sugarcane in the world, the per capita consumption is very low. The National Sample Survey Organisation figures found continuous rise in the prices of rice in the open market has forced households to lower their consumption. Price rise in basic amenities compels people to save on food.

Food adulteration is one of the reasons why India has the largest number of people in the world with organ failure. Union Health Minister J P Nadda fou-nd 18% of the food samples tested in the past three years were adulterated. Adulterated samp-les went up to 19.9% in 2014-15 from 18.8% in 2013-14. It is high time the government addresses India’s looming health crisis. 

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