Health has long been defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity ’. This clearly implies the need for promoting ‘holistic’ well-being and comprehensive healthcare that enables people to increase control over improving their own health. This process entails raising health awareness, enabling informed choice, disease prevention and control. Action in health promotion requires that efforts move beyond the boundaries of an absolute biomedical approach, towards one that takes into account the wider determinants of health including social, economic, political, cultural and ecological factors.
Incorporating health promotion mechanisms at every level of our health system is essential. In this blog, I share a few reflections derived from my experiences with health promotion and disease control activity.
HEALTH PROMOTION AND DISEASE CONTROL
I have in the past, had the opportunity to closely observe and be a part of health promotion programmes dealing with cancer awareness, prevention and care. While I had the opportunity to work within the Cancer Screening Programmes in the UK, it was clear that the programmes had been carefully designed, strategized, piloted and rolled out in an evidence-based manner. Understanding the disease, its anatomical symptoms and more so its aetiology at a molecular level, and the social factors influencing its development, held centre focus in the design and implementation of the population-wide disease control programmes. In Bangalore, I had the opportunity to set up a hospital-based cancer registry programme as part of the wider national programme. Being hospital- based, it was the first time that the ‘patient’ was brought into focus in my work with cancer, and in the process; the seriousness, complexity and reality of the disease with its wider issues governing all aspects of disease awareness, prevention or cure became more apparent and significant.
Simultaneously, my background in Immunology began to re-iterate the significant role our human immune system plays in linking the impacts of our environment with our health outcomes. The Government of India has made efforts to incorporate health promotion into the health system through various intervention-based disease control programmes. Such programmes are important in the short term; however their predominant vertical, biomedical (drug-based) approach is futile for sustained disease control. They fail to consider the wider social determinants of health (SDH) that govern individual and population immunity. One such vertical intervention is the DOTS–TB Control.
Programme introduced under the NRHM.
Tuberculosis (TB) remains a major national and global health problem and is no longer only a disease of the poor; but rather a disease of compromised immunity. Various factors like financial poverty, undernourishment, small, overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions, lack of health awareness and poor health / medical practices; all culminate, to directly or indirectly impact on human immunity and influence susceptibility to TB. The evolution of multidrug-resistant TB strains greatly challenges the efficacy of anti-TB drugs. Furthermore, Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course (DOTS) despite its advantages, fails to address the basic principles of autonomy, appropriateness, accessibility and acceptability; essential for successful adherence and compliance to such a disease control strategy. Responsibility to one’s own health and the sense of personal agency is crucial in positively influencing the SDH and thereby health outcomes.
Recent media campaigns promote the importance of TB diagnosis and uninterrupted treatment via the DOTS programme. While this is a powerful effort in health promotion, it fails to convey the very significance of nutrition and a healthy immunity in TB prevention and control.
HEALTH PROMOTION AND THE INDIAN HEALTH SYSTEM
Health promotion is complex and requires adequate reflection, effort and resources. We are fortunate as a country to have the aptitude and the means to build a massive and effective health promotion campaign as a part of our existing public health system. A successful example of disease control through health promotion activities (education and prevention strategies) and multi-sectoral efforts (including The Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India, State Public Health Engineering Departments, and the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission (Rural Water Supply) in India; is the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme. Health promotion has the potential to move beyond the NRHM’s vertical interventions through cross sectoral engagement (sectors that influence the daily lives of the public and their health). Addressing the SDH through such an approach would ensure that important disease–contributing factors like micronutrient deficiencies are addressed even via the food industry, for example.
Health protection through immunity building and addressing the SDH from within the Public Health system and across sectors, to introduce well-planned horizontal efforts together with vertical interventions is a way forward.
Janelle de Sa was a student of e-learning course in Public Health Management(ePHM ) conducted by Institute of Public Health, Bangalore, India.
Disclaimer: IPH blogs provide a platform for e-PHM students to share their reflections on different public health topics. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and not necessarily represent the views of IPH.