Medical doctors and nutritionists agree that food is an important part of our health. What matters is not how much we eat but more so what we eat and how nutritious it is. Being a tropical island, Sri Lanka has thousands of varieties of vegetables, fruits and green leaves. After we swallowed wholesale the globalised capitalist market economic system in 1977, we fell into a big soup and a toxic one. For instance, agriculture has been a part of our culture for thousands of years. Now a selfish and senseless world has turned it into an agribusiness with a focus on the negative aspects and heartless profits-centred traders are known to be using toxic pesticides so that they could keep their vegetables and fruits for a longer time. But in the process, they are forcing us to take a little poison with every meal. Even innocent children are victims. What we need to remember is that while nutrition and taste are both needed for people to enjoy and be nourished by what they eat, nutrition is more important.
In the latest food scandal, there are widespread allegations that thousands of litres of imported coconut oil contain a toxic cancer-causing substance. On Friday, the Attorney General directed the Criminal Investigation Department Director to probe how this happened and who was responsible. The main allegations are that some big private companies are behind some of these dangerous scandals and worse still they are being protected by political leaders at the highest level. As a result, millions of people are reported to be afraid that their traditional national New Year sweetmeats may contain some poison. There are also allegations of the import of substandard chemical fertilizers which contain toxic substances and farmers are unknowingly using them. Some civic-minded groups are offering packets of more effective and safer cow dung fertilizer at affordable prices, but it appears that the big fertilizer importing companies have powerful political patronage, and they have their way whatever the people say.
These and related issues come to mind as we reflect on World Health Day which the United Nations marked on Wednesday, April 7. In a statement the UN affiliated World Health Organisation (WHO) says that In recent years, countries in the Western Pacific have experienced rapid economic growth, migration and urbanisation. This created opportunities for better lives for many but left others behind. According to the WHO the COVID-19 pandemic has undercut recent health gains, pushed more people into poverty, food insecurity, and amplified gender, social and health inequities.
The WHO has called for action to eliminate health inequities, as part of a year-long global campaign to bring people together to build a fairer, healthier world. The campaign highlights the WHO’s constitutional principle that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
The world is still an unequal one. The places where we live, work and play may make it harder for some to reach their full health potential, while others thrive. Health inequities are not only unjust and unfair, but they also threaten the advances made to date, and have the potential to widen rather than narrow equity gaps, the WHO warns.
However, health inequities are preventable with strategies that place greater attention to improving health equity, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, but its impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, which are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.
For the first time in 20 years, global poverty levels are predicted to rise and hinder the progress towards sustainable development goals. In some regions, up to 60% of people lack essential health services. In informal settlements or slums more than one billion people are facing increased challenges in preventing infection and transmission of the coronavirus. The Asia-Pacific region as a whole account for nearly 82.5 million or 32% of the world’s international migrants. In the Asia-Pacific Region, Some 5.9 million children are at risk of not returning to school due to the disruption to education and the economic impact of the pandemic.
As American clinical psychologist and author Anne Wilson Schaef says Good health is not something we can buy. However, it can be an extremely valuable savings account.
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