In a lighter vein, it could be said that Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s latest call to arms on alcohol abuse can trigger several cases of high blood pressure, which is responsible for 4.4 per cent of the global burden of disease. A tad more than the results of tobacco use or alcohol use. That the minister has a peculiar fetish for making the nation tobacco-free is well-known. He has proved his political prowess, and stayed in the headlines, by getting deep into the administrative practices of the country’s premier referral centre. If there’s been any improvement of services as a result, it is yet to be reported. But it should not surprise us that Mr Ramadoss has now set his eyes on the evils of alcoholism.
All this is all very well, if only Mr Ramadoss would not make his disconnect with India’s real health issues so obvious. When announcing his new target, the minister talked about the ruinous “Western culture” of drinking that is destroying the nation’s health. Deaths as a result of sale of spurious country liquor (nothing ‘Western’ there) will not be news to the minister, even if his father is agitating on his behalf (or is it the other way around?) against the Tamil Nadu government to shut down all state-run liquor shops. But let’s keep the politics aside, and just look at this through the health prism. If alcohol and tobacco use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity lead to 50 per cent of preventable deaths in India, it is a matter of grave concern. Especially because all of these are matters of choice. The other 50 per cent of preventable deaths are a result of poor hygiene and sanitation, malnutrition, starvation, lack of access to public healthcare, corruption in the healthcare system, easy availability of spurious drugs and State apathy to daily essentials. But these are areas that Mr Ramadoss fights shy of. Why? Are institutionalising bans the easiest way out, a shortcut to headlines?
His sheer persistence on the issues he rakes up is admirable. If only Mr Ramadoss would look at health as the nation’s right to basic healthcare, not as a political platform on which he can piggyback to fame and UN citations.