The Anemia Project
The demon of daily routine guards the gates of my consciousness, not letting the past memories float in. Yet images of India still filter through: images of women smiling, hardworking, and non-complaining! An immigrant’s heart carries the burden of nostalgia but these images bring an extra dimension to my life as an American-Asian Indian, as an Indian doctor working in America, and as an Indian woman living in America. They keep reminding me that I have left so much of myself in India.
Here I am discharging a middle-aged white woman from Banner Baywood Hospital in Mesa, Arizona, USA. She and her husband are good, hardworking Americans who run a small flower shop. She will follow up with her primary care physician after discharge not only for her acute problems but for her yearly health checkup as well. This checkup will include a physical exam (including breast exam), pap smear, basic labs including complete blood count, and liver/kidney/thyroid function tests. She will be checked for diabetes and hypertension. In my mind, the women of India ask me, “What about us? Are we not good, hardworking Indian citizens? Are we not entitled to basic health care?”
When I visit India it is usually for two or three weeks at a time. There are a lot of unanswered questions in my mind. Is the health care that is being offered in government clinics and hospitals free or almost free? Do women see a doctor for “basic health care”? Is there any guidance given to a woman for achieving and maintaining good health all her life?
My impression about Indian health care could be based upon inadequate information but I think there is no basic framework for health care unless a physical exam and blood work are done for life insurance purposes (which is a middle-class privilege!). In the USA, the doctors follow the guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) or from the American Medical Association (AMA) for preventive health care. I have seen so many of my patients having a past medical history of breast/cervical cancer or have diabetes and hypertension, diagnosed early and treated well.
Have we studied our own population scientifically and have we used that information for the masses? Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to health care. The disparity between the health care systems between these two nations (USA and India) will always exist for obvious reasons, but Indian women like me need to start mending the gap.
Do you see the gap, the hole in Indian fabric of thinking? It is mostly due to our cultural attitude! Indian health care seems to be mostly concentrated around pregnant women. Every Indian woman, like any other woman in the world, is entitled to basic preventive health care, whether pregnant or not!
Whenever I visit India, I feel that the Indian society is becoming more and more westernized in food choices, clothing, festivities, etc. What we truly need to learn from the West is how to translate scientific information into daily living and how to live healthier lives. Affluence in India is rising. This is the right time to imbibe a fundamental thought process that will affect women favourably not only today but for generations to come.