The rising temperatures even before summer peaks, clubbed with climate change, Covid-19, bad lifestyle, and rising health issues form a vicious cycle that needs to be broken soon, especially when one talks about sustainable living. To do this, we would require collective effort that needs to start at an individual level, believes Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman and managing director, Medanta.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com on World Health Day, observed annually on April 7, he addresses the most frequently asked questions on health, heat, and Covid-19. This year, the theme is ‘Our Planet, Our Health’.
The country is witnessing unusually high temperatures this summer. How can one prevent issues like a heat stroke?
One of the things that intense heat does result in is a heat stroke. But what contributes to this is dehydration and fatigue. Basically, a lot of activity in India is outdoors — delivery and labour work particularly can cause heat strokes. This is a cause for concern. People need to be hydrated constantly and also adjust their diets because sweating results in the loss of minerals and vitamins. No direct exposure to the sun should be allowed. A wet cloth can be used to stay cool. India is vulnerable to strong summers in most parts of the country, and with summer coming in earlier, certain precautionary measures need to be taken.
The theme for this year is Our Planet, Our Health. How does climate change have an impact on our health and vice versa?
Climate change influences everything people do. However, the ecosystem has broken down and the change in weather has thrown people off as the body is not prepared for these changes. For example, May and June are known to be the worst months with respect to heat. The schools are closed at this time. But right now, schools are open, children are playing in the field, and in many parts of the country walking to school — which is causing heat-related ailments. They should not walk around with a bare head. A lot of children have come to us because they become dehydrated while playing on the field. It takes time for us to help them recover and rehydrate. Everyone should be aware of why extra hydration is needed, especially if they spend time outside exposed to the sun.
The only positive of such intense heat is that vector-borne diseases become less. Heat kills the mosquitoes. However, please note that climate change is not going to stop unless we take effective measures. It is going to create a lot of problems. For example, in summer, you burn more fuel. The more fuel you burn, the more the air is contaminated. The more that happens, because of air conditioning and emission gases, the more heat is generated. It is a global phenomenon, and you have to look at it from a 360 perspective. Rising water levels allowing for mosquito breeding and other water-related infections are also a cause for concern, something which needs to be looked at right away. Your health ties into this because climate affects crop production which, in turn, leads to food shortages which cause problems in nutrition – milk production also goes down. It is not something to be taken lightly. It will have a massive effect on humanity, and we are responsible for the same. The warnings have been there for years but ignored or treated as alarmist. But now that it is hitting us – we are realising the issue.
Now that Covid-19 is reaching an endemic stage, the disease burden is catching up with a lot of Non-Communicable Diseases and other ailments being reported. What must be done?
India does struggle with a large non-communicable disease burden. Covid distracted us from lifestyle diseases for two years, but they continue to form the bulk of our health problems. In fact, there is a huge vulnerability in our society with respect to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Diabetes has become an issue because, during Covid, people stayed at home and did not move around much. They put on weight, testing was not done, and the problem spiralled.
Now that attention has moved away from covid, (though it has not gone away, and we don’t know when it will come back into focus again), the focus is on the co-morbidities and how they need to be controlled. Covid was a huge equaliser for us, it showed us that no amount of money could address a bad lifestyle. So there is a lot of focus now on ‘health is wealth’. The mantra for a healthy lifestyle is simple – de-stress mental (in proportion), eat properly (in proportion), and exercise regularly (in proportion).
Despite this, a lot of people are still wary of preventive health checkups. What can be done to motivate them?
Preventive health checkups are very important. We are doing these checkups in small towns, villages, and even gated communities. We have a huge community outreach program. And given the importance of this – we are doing everything we can to make people aware of their health status.
Your top tips to stay safe amid the sweltering heat?
*Avoid direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day from noon to 4 pm when the sun is at its peak.
*Avoid going out and working at that time. What worries me the most is children, they are not aware of heat, they go ahead and play games – schools should be responsible and not allow kids to go out.
*Wearing a mask.
*At home, use air purifiers but during the day, open the windows. In the heat, the air quality levels are not as bad as in winter because of the inverted weather. Heat makes air quality better.
What would be your message to people this World Health Day?
Covid has made people more aware of their health. But what I am worried about is that people forget how much they struggled with their health during the last two years. Those who had unhealthy lifestyles struggled because of Covid complications. The healthier, more conscious people found it slightly easier to fight the virus. We need to ensure we remain healthy and don’t gain unnecessary weight. The shock of Covid should not wear off, we need to be very cognizant of personal health.