"Life is the price we pay for running away from death "

n.b.: Written as an entry for the Modern Healthcare Indiblogger contest in association with Apollo Hospitals
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"Health and Love have one thing in common - their value is realized only after they are lost"
Good Health  is not just wealth, it is much more. It was failing health that stopped the mighty Alexander from conquering the world. It was Bahadur Shah's bad health that barred him from reviving the dying Mughal empire. If it were not for health issues, Gurudutt would have delivered more movie magic, Arthur Ashe would have lifted more grand-slam trophies, and Michael Jackson would probably have gone on to become a bigger star than he was.  The human body, Shakespeare says, is like a beautifully laid out garden, where every organ plays its part in perfect rhythm with the rest.  For this garden, healthcare is the fertilizer. When we take good care of our bodies, without abusing it for sensual needs, good health is the blossom we reap.

Healthcare procedures have grown in consonance with technology. Advanced imaging techniques facilite enhanced diagnosis. Surgeries have become minimally intrusive and robotically controlled; consequently very safe, and almost painless. Hi-tech pathological research has led to more efficient and effective treatment solutions. Bionic limbs give handicapped people a new lease of life. Ventilators provide life support to the highly debilitated. Organ transplants revive the near-dead. Reconstructive surgeries help the disfigured face life with renewed confidence.

Healthcare, today, doesn't just provide for a living, it gives life itself.

Yet, in the midst of it all, healthcare is seen as a highly tainted domain. We find scattered reports of nefarious practices by various healthcare players. If somewhere kidneys get stolen off ignorant patients, elsewhere donated blood gets sold in the black market. Aamir Khan, in his televised series Satyamev Jayate, portrayed (albeit convincingly) the Medical Council of India as a veritable den of corruption. But a few dirty fish should not be allowed to pollute the entire pond. One does not sell an entire orchard just due to a few bad apples. The medical scene is not as disparaging as it is painted to be. There are inspirational accounts of companies and individuals who have seen beyond selfish benefits and upheld the divine status of healthcare. Dr. Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudayala is a glowing example living right amongst us. His philanthropic measures has created affordable healthcare for the poor farmers in Karnataka.

The legendary story of Merck and River Blindness (narrated below) is another classic instance of how an organization went beyond its commercial mindset for the betterment of society.

River Blindness is a debilitating disease afflicting millions of poor tribals living in river valleys of Africa and Latin America. It is caused by a parasitic worm, transmitted through the bite of black flies that breed in river water. The flies deposit the worms in human skin, which then release innumerable microscopic larvae in the blood, thus triggering intense itching, painful skin lesions, until eventually they infect the eyes and cause permanent blindness. The itching has reportedly driven several patients to the brink of suicide. There was no known treatment to this agonizing disease, until 1979 when, Dr. William Campbell, a research scientist at Merck and Co. discovered that Ivermectin, a premium veterninary drug from Merck, could kill the flies and hence provide preventive cure for river blindness.
         When this news reached Dr. Roy Vagelos, Merck's chairman, he and the board were in a fix. As the tribals were too poor, Merck would have to sell the new drug at dirt cheap prices. And once the cheap drugs get into the black market, it would cannibalize the lucrative sales of Ivermectin. Furthermore, Merck's quarterly profits were already on the decline at that point. Vagelos and his management team deliberated for long, and finally reached a conclusion that they carried an ethical obligation towards relieving humanity of the agony of pain. Research and production of the drug was approved. It took 7 years of expensive research to develop a human version of the drug, and by the late 1980's, Merck was distributing the drug, now called Mectizan, free of cost, using its own funds, throughout the world.

As of today, 2.5 billion tablets have been donated and as a result, millions of tribals are living a pain-free life.

With a backing of benevolent attitude and noble vision, healthcare can deliver great benefits to us. Healthcare gets its true meaning only when 'health' and 'care' go hand-in-hand. Without modern healthcare, the world would have been far worse than it is - with lesser life expectancy, higher infant mortality, more malnourished mothers, heavy disease infliction, and inadequate treatment facilities. Healthcare has brought down to us not just the gift of good health, but also an awareness of how important it is to not take health for granted.

Modern healthcare has triumphantly resolved some old-world 'mysteries' and 'curses':
  • Leprosy is today a fully curable disease. Hence, lepers do not face social stigma anymore.
  • Polio, which incapacitated many young lives in the past, has been eradicated altogether.
  • Dementia, which is the nemesis of old-age, has treatments today, which slow down its progress and give old people a hope to continue their dignified life.
  • Multiple Sclerosis, which severly disabled its victims in the past, has therapies today which reduce relapses of its attacks.
  • Ultrasound scanning has enabled constant monitoring of foetal development, hence enabling doctors to ensure health of the baby right from the womb.
However, one caveat stands tall: As with any innovation of the world, modern healthcare gives us the power to better our lives, but only if we use it wisely and truly.
"You - we can" : A story of how healthcare inspired a nation
One of the best examples of modern healthcare benefits is the curative treatments for the emperor of all maladies : Cancer. Diagnosis of cancer is not a death warrant anymore.

When Yuvraj Singh, the darling of India's cricket world-cup win, was diagnosed with cancer, it left scores of sports fans numb with horror. But modern healthcare came to Yuvi's rescue and delivered him alive, kicking and triumphant, to millions of hearts that danced with joy and celebrated life. An entire country found hope in the example of one man. If 'Yuvi' can, then 'You and We' can too.

There is no bigger inspiration than to give the hope of life to a dying person. That is how modern healthcare redefines happy living. That is how modern healthcare touches lives!

The only difference between illness and wellness is that "I" turns into "We".  Integrated happiness is where we all work together, where "You and We can".  If we join hands and use the tools of modern healthcare with a spirit of love and compassion, we can ensure good health for all, and hence, find the melody for all maladies.

In conclusion, it is a beautiful coincidence that this contest is associated with Apollo hospitals.  The name 'Apollo' itself seems to be synonymous with inspiration.  Apollo, in the Greek pantheon, is both a god of health as well as a Sun god.  While the former inspires us from within, the latter from without.  Apollo is the first name taken in the Hippocratic Oath.  It was from the temple of Apollo that the Delphic Oracle proclaimed one of the most inspirational messages to mankind : Know Thyself.  And finally, it was NASA's Apollo mission that put the first human being on the moon, and achieved "a small step for a man, and a giant leap for mankind".

Modern healthcare is, in fact, a giant leap for mankind, right here on earth.

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