Your Health, Our Commerce
The power of modern medicine in extending life is incredible! But the other side of the story of the quality of the extra years in life is dubious, if not dreadful. The 1950, the global average life expectancy was 48 years. It increased to 71.5 in 2014. Global average life expectancy increased by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016. If about three months continue to be added with each passing year, by the middle of this century, life expectancy at birth will be 80 years by 2050. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years.
No matter how rosy this picture looks, there are two issues involved. The first is, what will people do with such a long lifespan? The world as it exists, is designed for productivity till 60 years, and in some intellectual occupations like science, academics, and the judiciary, it is 65 years. So one stops earning by that time and starts living off one’s savings, if there are any, or becomes a societal burden. If society itself is incapable of taking care of itself, old age is synonymous with pain, misery, solitude and agony.
I accidently changed my career from that of a missile scientist to biomedical engineering in 1995 when my mentor, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam inspired me to develop civilian spinoffs of defence technology. He was concerned about the high cost of imported medical devices, not being affordable to most Indian patients. I succeeded in making a coronary stent and riding that success, landed myself an opportunity to work with doctors since then. I do not want to sound cynical but the ringside view of the healthcare sector that I accidently got to have, was unpleasant if not revolting.
I saw rampant corruption in the pricing of drugs and consumables. There are commissions at every stage in the supply chain without any value addition. Prescriptions are not honest and off late, even diagnostics is linked to the terms and conditions of your insurance policy and your capacity to pay for your treatment. Like banks stripped themselves of the trust of the people who deposited their savings to earn interest, inefficiency mars hospitals in the government sector while the corporate ones are defaced by crass commercialization of medicine.
As if by design, sugar and low grade fats are being pumped into our diets. Exotic chemicals are used in food processing to increase the shelf life of products and food adulteration has become an accepted norm of modern living, rather than some abhorred sin. The combined effect of all these have brought in a rampant increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases – diabetes and other hormonal disorders, hypertension, obesity, irritable bowl syndrome and autoimmune problems messing up with the respiration in a serious manner.
It is common to see school-going children carry anti-asthmatic nasal sprays in their school bags, young men and women having cancers and heart disease, and by the time one is fifty, one is on a daily prescription for diabetes, hypertension and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Each of these drugs has its own side effects and a few years of consumption push you into some or the other systemic impairment and all this costs money which eventually goes into the coffers of global giants who make these medicines, own beverages and fast food businesses, hospitals and insurance companies.
I found a lot of sense in the books written by Croatian-Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich (1926–2002). For Dr Illich, the world is suffering from too much medical interference, and a medical edifice has been built which is one of the threats to the real life of human beings – a threat which so far has been disguised as care. So, eat and drink industrialized food, breathe toxins and automobile exhaust loaded air, drink only bottled water as the normal one is indeed injurious to health and loaded with infectious microbes, get diagnosed for at least one chronic disease and become an entry in the Excel Sheet of a global conglomerate that spreads its investment portfolios in food, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, and of course, the media. And do not look down upon them. They are indeed great philanthropists and regularly donate for human causes. They are not robber barons of the earlier centuries. They are indeed very friendly and painless, even as they stick to you like leeches!
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