May 2007

Assocham summit on corporate health takes up vital issues

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The corporate honchos have realized that if the health of their employees is not sound, it may translate into absenteeism and reduction in productivity, which in turn may adversely affect the bottomlines of the company. This realization has resulted in increasing importance for corporate healthcare in the recent times.

Today a section of the corporate world of modern India is harangued by chronic and lifestyle disease burden, which can be attributed to irregular eating habits coupled with intake of junk foods, mental stress at workplace, and sedentary lifestyle devoid of any exercise.

With India's corporate world facing stiff challenges of mental stress and burnout in their work arena, the new dimension of occupational healthcare has proffered efficacious answers. A perceptible change has consequently taken place in the way employee fitness is being perceived in the past couple of years as the pronounced need to keep employees' fit is being increasingly realized by the corporates.

The corporate honchos have realized that if the health of their employees is not sound, it may translate into absenteeism and reduction in productivity, which in turn may adversely affect the bottomlines of the company.This realization has resulted in increasing importance for corporate healthcare in the recent times.

The mantra of investing in employees' health is beginning to find a foothold in the Indian corporate hub, as it assures a return of investment. Measurable in terms of employee and company benefits, employee wellness demonstrates a real contribution to company bottomlines since promoting employee health is a proven key to controlling healthcare costs. Moreover, increasing curative health public expenditure has stymied public spending on preventive health services. In a resource constraint environment, despite 21 percent increase in the outlay for health in the current budget, corporates do have an important stake in optimally using their health budget for minimizing absenteeism, reducing attrition, building team spirit and enhancing productivity.

In this context, the relevance of ASSOCHAM's initiative in organizing a National Health Summit titled 'Enhancing Corporate Health: The Global Perspective' cannot be overemphasized. The conference, which was held on 17th April 2007 at Hotel Oberoi, New Delhi, attracted a galaxy of dignitaries from the medical fraternity. The event was also distinguished by the presence of central / state government officials, representatives from multilateral agencies such as WHO, World Bank, USAID, etc. corporate honchos, NGOs and pharamaceutical companies. eHealth had the honour of being the official magazine for this high-profile conference.

The top medical luminaries who participated in this conference included Dr. B.K. Rao, Chairman, ASSOCHAM Expert Committee on Health and Chairman, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital; Dr. H.K. Chopra, Co-Chairman, ASSOCHAM Expert Committee on Health and Chief Cardiologist of Moolchand Medcity; Dr. Ashok Seth, Chairman and Chief Cardiologist of Max Devki Devi Heart and Vascular Institute; Dr. M.C. Misra,the Co-Chairman of ASSOCHAM Expert Committee on Health and Professor and Head(Surgery), AIIMS; Prof. D. Prabhakarn,Additional Professor, Dept. of Cardiology, AIIMS;  Dr.Shikha Sharma, nutritionist and a noted entrepreneur, running the show at Dr. Shikha's Nurti-Health Systems Pvt. Ltd.     
 
Some of the focal areas of this one-day conference was the role of physical activity and exercises, stress management and corporate health,abstinence from tobacco consumption and smoking, public-private partnership in healthcare, heart fitness, how to cope with the burden of diabetes, role of yoga in health, facing the threat of the global epidemic of obesity and how to manage it, healthy diet in the prevention of non communicable diseases, etc.

The high-point of the conference was a united effort by the doctors at large(who were present at the summit on 'Enhancing Corporate Health: The Global Perspective') to dispel the myth that red wine is good for heart. The debatable issue sprung up from an innocuous question raised by a member of the audience that whether red wine was good for heart, and all the doctors in the discussion panel were unanimous in voicing their expert advice against wine intake.

Eminent cardiaologists such as Dr. H K Chopra,  Prof. D. Prabhakaran, Dr. Ashok Seth,  Dr. B K Rao and Prof. M C Misra unanimously echoed sentiments that it is a myth that wine consumption would support the smooth functioning of heart.  All these medical practitioners warned that wine intake adds toxic content in the human body and damage and decay heart to the extent beyond repair. They advised that wine consumption ought to be avoided to keep one's heart absolutely fit. Dr. Chopra, Dr. Prabhakaran, Dr. Ashok Seth, Prof. Misra and host of other medical practitioners sought to discourage the pub culture that is taking roots in Delhi, and particularly those that serve liquor, as they are lurking  killers of human organs.

The doctors dismissed the popularly held theory that red wine is good for health, and asserted that there had been no proof to substantiate the positive side of either the red wine or any other alcohol on human heart.  Eminent cardiaologists such as Dr. H K Chopra,  Prof. D. Prabhakaran, Dr. Ashok Seth,  Dr. B K Rao and Prof. M.C. Misra unanimously echoed sentiments that it was a myth that wine consumption would support the smooth functioning of heart.  All these medical practitioners warned that wine intake adds toxic content in the human body and damage and decay heart to the extent beyond repair. They advised that wine consumption ought to be avoided to keep one's heart absolutely fit. Dr. Chopra, Dr. Prabhakaran, Dr. Ashok Seth, Prof. Misra and host of other medical practitioners sought to discourage the pub culture that is taking roots in Delhi, and particularly those that serve liquor, as they are lurking  killers of human organs.

During the conference, Prof. Misra also pointed out that emergency health facilities even in a city like Delhi are grossly inadequate and its hospitals are ill-equipped to take on the collective load of patients. He also lamented the fact that chronic diseases are becoming more rampant not only among corporates but within ordinary people, for which he blamed their faulty eating habits and stressful lifestyle.

“Their eating habits and lifestyle, which are influenced by the western world, is also one of the causes for chronic diseases in India, the health facility for which are not adequate,” warned Prof. Misra who justified that health could be provided to all by 2020, provided communities support to this effect would be forthcoming.

During the discourse on disaster management, Prof. Misra also hit upon the growing accident rates in India, and the inadequate facilities available to tackle such emergency situations.

Talking about Delhi and its accident rate, Prof. Misra said that in Delhi alone, 2000 persons are being killed on road accidents per year as against 100,000 average across the country, for which golden hour facilities are totally inadequate. He advised that prevention of injuries would be best recommended to as it is cost effective and saves life.

Dr. BK. Rao also stressed on preventive healthcare and opined that India needs more of health clubs and wellness centres than hospitals. In his welcome address, the  immediate past President of ASSOCHAM,  Anil K Agarwal called for “optimization of lifestyles”, to maintain a routine and disciplined way of life.  

India's Public Health Expenditure is Simply Dismal

India is far behind Bangladesh, Pakistan and China in terms of public health expenditure. India's public health expenditure as percentage of its total health expenditure is only 20.7 percent as against 25.2 percent of  Bangladesh, 34.9 percent of Pakistan and 33.7 percent of China. These    findings were revealed by a joint study conducted by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) titled 'Working Towards Wellness: An Indian Perspective.' The study also says that India's per capita expenditure on health is estimated at $23 and its total health expenditure as percentage of its GDP stands at a poor 6.1 percent.

The study says that India will have to increase its public expenditure on health to prevent it to become a centre for chronic cardiovascular diseases. It also reveals that percentage of cardiovascular patients who succumb to death in India is currently estimated at 30 percent within the age group of 35-64, as compared to 12 percent in the United States, 22 percent in China, 25 percent in Russia, 34 percent in Brazil and 40 percent in South Africa. The study recommended that the increased pressures of globalisation will have to be met through, provided India accelerates its health budget by manifolds.

The reason as to why the public expenditure on health in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh have risen much more than India is because of two specific reasons. One, the economies of Pakistan and Bangladesh are emerging for development and that is why their governments have been making higher health allocations for their people to partake in global competition.

Secondly, on population front, Pakistan and Bangladesh are at competitive edge because of their size, which is not the case with India. India after 2000 onwards, paid less attention towards health. The study however adds that in the budget proposals for 2007-08, India realized the neglect of its health sector in the past and made good health budget proposals for the current fiscal; the impact of which will be realized later on.

The study also unearths the sordid fact that India today bears the burden of both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Along with the existence of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, hitherto neglected diseases like diabetes are likely to take endemic proportions in India. It is expected that the country would have a population of around 57.2 million diabetic patients by the year 2025, many of whom would be adults of working age. In India, diabetic nephropathy is expected to develop in 6.6 million of the 30 million patients suffering from diabetes.

The study has also recommended that the wellness programmes should be conducted in leading work places to spread awareness for healthcare, so that chronic diseases do not plague most of our workforce, as a result of which a great deal of productivity suffer adversely.  

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