Friday, October 18, 2013

An Immune India

Personal experience :
A few years ago, the following was quite a frequent conversation.

Day 1 :
Me : I think I am falling sick.
Pras : Take dabur chywanprash.
Day 2 :
Pras : How are you feeling? Did you take dabur chywanprash?
Me : Yes and I am feeling better.
Pras : Don't forget to take dabur chywanprash today also.

Back then, I had moved out of my parents' nest and would fall sick once a month. Slowly, over a year, my immunity has improved. I fall sick less frequently and even if I do feel like I am going to fall sick, I act quickly by taking my trusty Dabur Chywanprash. I do believe that it has been a strong player in improving my immunity. Even today I carry a bottle of Dabur Chywanprash wherever I go and imagine my relief when I found it at Indian stores in Auckland as well.

Now for some factual information and my thoughts on building a stronger, immune India.

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." - Henry Ford

It would be a crime to not take advantage of the plethora of online courses from A-listed universities across the globe made available for free through sites like and, especially if you, like me, have not got a chance to pursue your studies outside of India.
One of the courses that I am currently enroled in is on World Poverty from MIT. The course tries to cover all possible causes of World Poverty, including the impact of poor health on a person's earning capacity. Interestingly and shamefully, most of the research is conducted in India. I share my thoughts on the problems and a possible solution.

Problem 1 : Superstitious Beliefs
The vast majority of India still believes in superstition and witchcraft. There is no dearth  of conmen who claim to rid you of the spirits that have infested your body and soul as well as perform rituals to help improve your situation. Unfortunately, this is something that most of us Indians grow up with and in most cases it sticks on. I still do walk reaaaally slow if I see a black cat cross the road with the hope that someone else will cross before me and take on that share of bad luck or think twice before cutting my nails on a Friday for fear of causing some dear one some misfortune. It makes no sense but by chance if you do go against it and you do face some misfortune, you want to believe it. Likewise, many of the people who fall sick in India head not to a doctor but to a conman to rid them of the spirit that is causing them the sickness.

Problem 2 : Self Proclaimed Doctors
This I learnt from the course that there are many people who claim to be "Bengali Doctors". These people have no formal training whatsoever but turn into doctors prescribing paracetamol and IV fluids based on their experience. People feel better with the IV fluids and tend to believe that these "Bengali Doctors" are better than the real doctors who require tests to be done to give a prescription. The lack of regulations in India and needless to mention, the corruption, allow these self proclaimed doctors to thrive and make a quick buck.

Problem 3 : Lack of Awareness
As the Anna Hazaare campaign proclaimed "Chalta Hain ab nahin chalega". Most of India grows up with this "Chalta Hain" attitude. There would be solutions available but people are just unaware of them and make no attempt to learn of available solutions. Media is a useful way to spread awareness but most of India still lives in darkness and a lot more don't know how to read. An advertisement in the paper or on television alone wont do. India has a huge human capital which should definitely be exploited.

Problem 4 : Failing Government  
During the emergency, the government of the time, in an attempt to control the population, rounded up women, mostly those who were Muslims, and tried to sterilize them. Whether it was an attempt to control the muslim population or not is another issue. This has unfortunately made people skeptical and though the Government, today, may organize health camps and other vaccination camps, most people don't attend them for fear that the Government may actually be trying to mislead them. This is a smaller problem I think, since the Government has been successful with eradicating polio, though I would attribute the success to the bollywood stars who came in the advertisement campaigns. India being a huge believer in "reel" life hails actors as godlike, and hence the move to enrol bollywood stars is a definite recipe for success.

Solution : Dabur Chywanprash to the rescue
One solution could be to make people aware of Dabur Chywanprash and may be distribute free samples of the same, especially in rural areas. It would be more effective if a sort of education is imparted on the benefits and limitations of the product. Most of the research done by the Poverty Action Lab team at MIT shows a strong relation between demand for a product and the cost. If bednets were distributed for free, more women came to the fertility clinics and if people had to pay for the bednets, the demand reduced to almost 0 even if it costed 10 cents. Further, once you knew the benefit of a product, you would most definitely go ahead and buy it the next time and so would your neighbours and others in your social circles. Distributing it for free as well as having people monitor that it is in fact being used when a person is sick will ensure that people are aware of the benefits of chywanprash, thereby increase the demand for the same.

What better way to share your thoughts and recent learnings when you have a chance to win with This post is an entry to the "An Immune India" contest hosted on Indiblogger.