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Has modern medicine stepped into dangerous territory?

The year 2014 marked a great victory for India in the health sector. The advertisements with Bollywood celebrities urging the people to give their children “do boond zindagi ki” (two drops of life) to fight the long battle against Polio finally paid off when India, along with ten other Asian countries, was declared Polio free.

Today, India has not only been able to fight a crippling disease like polio, but has also been able to provide affordable healthcare to many in this country. Think about it; ever since you can remember, there has been a Crocin to treat your fever, an Allergra to treat your allergies and a Combiflam to cure the pain that you’ve felt.

In the 21st century, experts around the world are joining hands to find cures for life threatening diseases like AIDS or Cancer only because they have managed to already create a medicine for everyday diseases like the common cold, or a urinary tract infection.

The youth of the 21st century is blessed with great health and treatments for almost every possible ailment known to man. It’s the reason why we don’t count our last moments when we find ourselves down with a viral fever.

Now picture this: A person is brought into the emergency after having been in an accident. Doctors are able to identify that he has multiple fractures, open wounds and a head injury that requires immediate attention. A couple of hours and after having called upon every God in the world, the patient’s family is told that the surgery was a success and that the boy should recover. 24 hours later, the same doctors have at their hands a post-operative infection that is untreatable. The result: the boy doesn’t survive.

The hypothetical scenario that I just played out in front of you is actually not hypothetical at all. While some who are more optimist (read delusional) believe that the world has enough time to deal with this growing problem, many experts around the world are sure that we’re in the middle of a post-antibiotic plague of sorts.

The greatest problem in the health industry of the 21st century is not AIDS anymore, it’s death caused by a urinary tract infection. According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), people around the world now carry bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

WHO Europe antimicrobial resistance adviser Dr. Lo Fo Wong said, “Everyone is potentially in danger.” Not to mention, the report also declared, “the era of safe medicine is coming to an end.”

If that doesn’t throw light on the seriousness of the matter, here’s what Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for health safety at the WHO said, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.”

The report, which was compiled after analyzing data from 114 countries, warns of a growing antibiotic resistance in seven kinds of bacteria found in diseases like sepsis, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea.

While we all understand that these statistics scream “Danger” for everyone around the world, let’s really look at what this means for India.

Out of the above-mentioned diseases, one doesn’t need statistics to realize that diarrhea, pneumonia and urinary tract infection are diseases that are not only common, but widespread in our country.

Poor sanitation, a lack of access to clean water and increasing levels of pollution are all problems that come with living in India. But in light of the report released by the WHO, 67 percent of Indian households are now at a risk of contracting diarrhea that is untreatable because of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that the disease carries.

Not to mention, fewer then 6 percent of children less than five years of age use proper toilets in our country. This puts the majority of children that fall under this age group susceptible to urinary tract infections and diarrhea, both of which are diseases that have been found to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

While the issue of widespread disease due to the formation of superbugs that are resistant to drugs has been haunting our health system for almost three years now, the WHOs study spells out major doom for most people in India.

Experts believe that prevention is one of the best ways to combat this growing problem along with resisting the administration of unnecessary drugs for mild problems.

How will we manage this in India exactly?

Forget clean toilets, the existence itself of a toilet is something that is out of the ordinary for most families in India. Many find themselves defecating in the open, a prime cause for many diseases. Not to mention, a simple preventive technique of washing hands is another habit that is ignored, becoming another cause for disease.

Coming to the second solution: avoiding taking unnecessary medication. It’s not completely inaccurate to say that many of the ailing in our country self-prescribe, and many doctors over-medicate. With every visit to the doctor, one finds himself taking at least two more pills since the last visit, an issue that we can now identify as a major reason to developing resistance to drugs.

The realities in India with regard to the solutions provided to combat drug-resistance paint a very grim picture for all of us.

From the looks of it, we may find ourselves back in a time before the Second World War where every mother shook with fear if her child was diagnosed with the “fever”.

As for those of us who live in the subcontinent, it is in troubled times like these where being poor is nothing short of being cursed.

We’re facing a modern plague, and survival is the biggest question right now.

Aishwarya Dravid

Looks like India is headed for its doom. Write your opinions in the comment box below.

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