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India’s pink army: Bringing healthcare to doorsteps of deprived

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NRHM

By Bhavana Akella 

Bengaluru, Nov 1 : In a country where quality healthcare remains a privilege of the rich and influential, a silent army of women, clad in pink sarees, work tirelessly and selflessly to make basic healthcare facilities accessible to those who live on the margins of the growing Indian economy, particularly in the country’s vast rural hinterland.

Barely getting time to sleep as calls for help keep coming round the clock, this pink army — as they are popularly known — is the backbone of the primary healthcare in India’s 600,000 villages, providing a connect between the community and the inadequate public health system. These are the trained female community health activists — called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) — under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of the Indian government.

Instrumental in bringing down the infant mortality rate from over 50 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 (when ASHA was launched) to 34 deaths in 2016, these women provide information to people in rural areas about health, sanitation and nutrition; conduct ante-natal and post-natal checkups; assist women during their deliveries, deliver polio vaccines and conduct health surveys.

With many of them mothers themselves, they often take along their children to the clinics at unearthly hours because they can’t leave them behind at home.

Clad in the trademark pink saree, her work uniform, state health worker Godavari Anil Rathore, 23, a resident of Kalaburgi, Karnataka, about 623 km north of state capital Bengaluru, is one of the youngest employed as an ASHA.

“When I was a kid, I remember how my aunt had a baby and lost it just within two months. The baby had contracted malaria after she was born, and my aunt couldn’t bear the pain,” Rathore told IANS.

“It’s an unimaginable pain not to be able to save your own baby, which is one of the reasons why I decided I should help women,” she said.

Rathore has helped over 100 women in her district in delivering healthy babies over the last three years that she has been working as an ASHA.

“It makes me extremely happy looking at women living in the remotest parts of the country with not much money to focus on their health giving birth to healthy children.

“Even though it means that we work an average of 12 hours each day, taking health surveys, carrying out polio drives, assisting pregnant women from the district I live in — right from medical checkups during pregnancy, to the delivery, then getting the baby all the vaccinations, and in the end receiving only about Rs 1,500 for a month.”

Rathore said that every woman she works with “becomes family to me, even if they need me at 3 a. m., I’m there.”

For many Indian villages where hospitals aren’t accessible easily, 860,000 ASHAs across the country (according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2014) are the only ray of hope in providing medical assistance to thousands of people, and have been working extensively on eliminating polio and malnutrition among infants.

Making sacrifices every day to build a healthier society, these women find it hard to even make ends meet, earning a paltry sum for their services. Over 15,000 ASHAs from Karnataka staged a protest last month at Freedom Park in the heart of the city for a better remuneration from the state so that they could live with dignity.

Rathore, like many other ASHAs, barely sleeps, as calls for help keep coming in from pregnant women round the clock, after a long day of delivering polio vaccines or conducting health surveys. Many a time, she can’t leave her two-year-old girl, Lakshmi, behind at home and takes her along.

“Sometimes, I feel I’m raising my child within clinics with my husband not being at home all the time. But I am glad she’s growing up learning to be empathetic, knowing that as humans we must be able to help one another without any hesitation,” said Rathore with a smile.

ASHAs take pride that they’ve managed to get their communities talking about health and hygiene.

“We are overwhelmed to see people in villages pay attention to sanitation and building their toilets and purifying their water, which they earlier didn’t care much for. These are very important when we talk about health,” Rathore explained.

With every right to quit their difficult job, the women say they continue on because the power to be a part of the birth of a healthy life is unparalleled.

Geetha B, 31, from Ballari district, has been an ASHA for nine years now. A mother of two boys, she takes the responsibility of overseeing the health needs of over 1,500 people in Hariginadone village in Ballari district seriously.

“My vision is always towards making the village a better place. I would have assisted at least 300 women in these nine years in their pregnancies and now I see the kids going to school within the village, children I would have helped while growing up to be healthy. It fills me with happiness each time.”

“Pregnancy comes with a hope for every family. Our job satisfaction comes from seeing their dreams come true, in helping India’s next generation grow up healthy.”

A mother of five children, 35-year-old Nagomi K. from Raichur district, about 400 km to the north of Bengaluru, has seen ASHAs help in transforming the villages in the district over the past 12 years that they have been working.

“In many villages, the women are blamed if something happens to the baby. They have to live with guilt that it was their fault that the baby was born prematurely,” Nagomi told IANS.

With their constant visits to the villagers’ homes for checkups, men also tend to learn from them about their wives’ health, which doesn’t happen in healthcare centres, where the men are just asked to wait in the waiting rooms, she said.

“Even though many don’t recognise the work we do, we are trying to act as bridges involving both man and a woman when it comes to a pregnancy, and having villagers lead better lives in general with better health.”

“A lot of times I assist women who cannot even afford a strip of medicine. That’s when I give them whatever money I have so that the health of the community is never compromised,” Nagomi said.

As Karnataka State ASHA Workers’ Association Secretary D. Nagalakshmi puts it, “These women are the lifelines for our country in letting those who cannot access medical help get every kind of support. They must be credited with raising a majority of India’s next generation.”

Each of the 37,000 ASHAs in Karnataka are working despite severe hardships and have some moving stories to tell, but they don’t hesitate to make any sacrifice in building a healthier country, she said.

India ranks 131 among 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) 2016 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). India was placed behind countries like Gabon (109), Egypt (111), Indonesia (113), South Africa (119) and Iraq (121) among others. The government is working towards improving this rating by creating competition between states to perform better on key social indicators like infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and life expectancy.

IANS

Health

Sunscreen can reduce skin cancer risk by 40% in youth: Study

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Sydney, July 20: Young adults who regularly use sunscreen to reduce their risk of skin cancer by 40 percent, a study has found.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and 1,32,000 melanoma skin cancers occur each year globally.

The global incidence of melanoma continues to increase, however, the main factors that predispose to the development of melanoma seem to be connected with recreational exposure to the sun and a history of sunburn. These factors lie within each individual’s own responsibility.

“The association of sun exposure and sunburn with melanoma risk, particularly in childhood, is well established and this study showed that regularly using sunscreen was protective against the harmful effects of sun exposure,” Xinhua news agency quoted lead researcher Anne Cust, Associate Professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, as saying.

Cust noted that it is still difficult to get people to regularly apply sunscreen, and that likelihood to do so depended on a number of factors.

“Regular users of sunscreen were more likely to be female, younger, of British or northern European ancestry, and have higher education levels, lighter skin pigmentation, and a strong history of blistering sunburn,” Cust said.

“People were less likely to use sunscreen if they were male, older, less educated, or had skin that was darker or more resistant to sunburn.”

For the study, the team analysed data of around 1,700 people aged between 18 to 40 years.

“This study confirms that sunscreen is an effective form of sun protection and reduces the risk of developing melanoma as a young adult,” Cust said.

IANS

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5 natural methods to beat stress

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New Delhi, July 19: A study of 200,000 respondents by Optum has found that 46 per cent of the Indian workforce reports suffering from some form of stress.

Stress is the body’s natural response to pressure. It can have a negative effect on your body, mood, as well as behaviour, with wide-ranging effects like headaches, anxiety, fatigue and irritability.

The causes of stress vary from one person to the next, and so do the effects. Stress can be harmful for the body, and is the cause of many health and lifestyle problems. Managing stress should be a priority, but is often difficult to achieve due to lack of time or effective and simple methods to do so.

Dr Hariprasad, Ayurveda Expert at The Himalaya Drug Company, recommends the following natural methods to cope with stress:

Unwind with physical activity: All forms of physical activity are useful in managing stress. Exercising has many benefits such as releasing endorphins and calming the mind, with a reduction in stress levels being an added bonus. Even 45 minutes of physical activity a day goes a long way towards managing stress levels.

Organise your life: Organising one’s workload leads to a sense of control and peace of mind, and there are many ways to achieve this. One way to do this is through adopting good time management, by prioritising tasks, and scheduling time to complete them. Switching between tasks and having them pile up often becomes an additional source of stress. Decentralisation of tasks or asking for help as and when required is also a good way to reduce stress levels.

Use herbs in daily diet: Herbs like Ashvagandha have been proven to be effective in managing the negative effects of stress. According to Ayurveda texts and modern research, Ashvagandha helps reduce the damaging effects of long-term stress by rejuvenating the mind and body. It is an adaptogen that helps the body stabilise physiological processes, maintain a healthy balance between different biological systems, and support better resilience to stress.

Eat the right food: Your eating habits have a significant impact on stress levels. Following a healthy diet with a good balance of different food groups and all the required nutrients is essential. A diet rich in different food groups such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, fish, and poultry would help you get the carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals you need. A well-nourished body is better able to cope with the physical and emotional effects of stress.

Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential in stress management. Not getting enough sleep typically leads to irritability and fatigue. Oversleeping can make us sluggish, depressed — and puts our health at a higher risk. Getting the right amount of sleep, between 7-8 hours, is a good way to stay energised and effectively manage the challenges of the day.

In this busy and stressful life, these simple and natural methods can help you manage stress and maintain good mental and physical health.

IANS

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Decoded: How Omega-3 fatty acid helps inhibit cancer’s spread

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New York, July 16: While eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, certain nuts and seeds, have been known to prevent heart diseases and arthritis, a new research, led by one of Indian-origin, showed that omega-3 fatty byproducts may also have anti-cancer effects.

The new study, led by Aditi Das from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, showed that when the human body metabolises omega-3 fatty acids, it produces a class of molecules called endocannabinoid epoxides, or EDP-EAs. These have anti-inflammatory properties and can inhibit cancer’s growth and spread.

The EDP-EAs have similar properties to cannabinoids found in marijuana — but without the psychotropic effects — and they target the same receptor in the body that cannabis does.

“We have a built-in endocannabinoid system which is anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing. Now we see it is also anti-cancer, stopping the cells from proliferating or migrating,” said study leader Aditi Das from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“These molecules could address multiple problems: cancer, inflammation and pain,” Das added.

For the study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the team studied the effect of the molecule in mice with tumours of osteosarcoma — a bone cancer that is not only painful but also difficult to treat.

The results showed that the endocannabinoids slowed the growth of tumours and blood vessels, inhibited the cancer cells from migrating and caused cancer cell death.

The higher concentrations of EDP-EAs did kill cancer cells, but not as effectively as other chemotherapeutic drugs on the market. But, the compounds slowed tumour growth by inhibiting new blood vessels from forming to supply the tumour with nutrients. They also prevented interactions between the cells, and most significantly, they appeared to stop cancerous cells from migrating.

While dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to EDP-EAs, for those with cancer, something concentrated and fast acting is needed, Das said.

“That’s where the endocannabinoid epoxide derivatives come into play – you could make a concentrated dose of the exact compound that’s most effective against the cancer. You could also mix this with other drugs such as chemotherapies,” she added.

IANS
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