Sri Lanka must be a stalwart in promoting Public Health in order to establish a healthy and secure lifestyle for its people void of maladies. Representing the University of Toronto, Director of the Office of Global Health Education and Training Dr. Arun Chockalingam in partnership with the Rajarata University recently conducted an awareness programme focusing on Public Health Promotion to university students and professionals in Sri Lanka. Dr. Chockalingam stressed on the importance of promoting public health in Sri Lanka while special emphasis was laid on how the extensive use of tobacco consumption could be boycotted to ensure a healthy and long life. Following are the excerpts of Dr. Chockalingam’s interview with Daily Mirror.
As a professional in the field of public health, do tell us about your career background?
I was born in India but went to Canada in the early 70s. I did my Masters in Biomedical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. Starting my career way back in 1982, I worked mainly on hypertension, prevention and control. As a Professor and Director from the University of Toronto, the third largest university in the world, I primarily focus on global issues such as heart disease and strokes. We also focused on “Big data” which actually refers to the collection of national data. This helps to formulate policies and to devise programmes for the benefit of people.
On what grounds have you decided to visit Sri Lanka and what are you planning to do during your stay in the country?
During my stay in Sri Lanka, we are looking at possibilities of collaboration with the Sri Lankan universities. I met with students from the Rajarata University and am hoping to meet Kelaniya and Colombo Universities as well. In this way, I intend to promote more awareness on public health. In a country like Sri Lanka you have a high degree of health problems such as non communicable diseases. These diseases mainly include non communicable diseases such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancer and lung disease. We wish to raise awareness on how to maintain a healthy life void of these non- communicable diseases.
What are the risk factors that give rise to non- communicable diseases?
The so called risk factors of non-communicable diseases are common and are usually triggered due to several reasons. The risk factors include tobacco smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity, dietary habits and alcohol. We can manage all these carefully and prevent the onset of all chronic diseases.
Especially, tobacco, high calorie food and alcohol are the main culprits that deteriorate your health. So our focus is on promoting education and raise awareness on public health throughout the world. To achieve this, we need to work with local people and empower them. I found a lot of enthusiasm with individuals like Dr. Manoj Fernando from the Rajarata University who are passionate and envisioning a healthier lifestyle for Sri Lanka. Secondly my objective was to collaborate with university students and train people with the skills necessary for public health and health promotion. I am here for a week visiting universities and raising awareness among its students and professionals on public health promotion.
What are the adverse effects of consuming tobacco?
We were not born with maladies that come along with the use of tobacco. The use of tobacco was an acquired habit which creates a powerful addiction. The life expectancy of people will eventually decrease. Tobacco smoking could affect the human health and cause diseases in the heart, lungs and liver. People are driven to this bad habit by the profit seekers of tobacco companies. Right now, the level of smoking in Sri Lanka is at a pretty high level. Sri Lanka must focus on minimizing the level of tobacco consumption.
How can Sri Lanka curtail the use of tobacco and adopt a healthier lifestyle?
We need to bring it down, educate, motivate and regulate the use of tobacco. Here the Government has a major role to play. I am quite happy to note that the present Government is working hard to control tobacco consumption. In Canada, we used some technical tools. These tools included pictorial warnings in tobacco cartons, very heavy tax on tobacco products, strong legislation for children under 18 years of age to buy tobacco from stores and a very strong legislation to prevent the sale of tobacco to minors as well as in premises close to any school.
Every building in Canada has become smoke free buildings and people cannot smoke within a hundred feet perimeter from the building. Sri Lanka can adopt these tools to make it a tobacco free country. What the current Sri Lankan government is doing to cut down the use of tobacco is very encouraging. However it is equally important to educate children about the harm of consuming tobacco. Children could carry this message home even to their parents.
Since diet is a vital element of man’s lifestyle, how would you promote this under public health?
Child malnutrition, child obesity and increasing levels of diabetes in the population are caused due to the kind of food people consume; the way they eat and how they eat. If we eat large quantities of rice before dinner and go to bed without spending our energy, it would remain as stored energy that tends to result in big bellies for men. This is why diet is an important component of man’s lifestyle. If we choose to eat only starch we will eventually end up with glucose resulting in diabetes. We should focus more on a diet consisting plenty of vegetables, fruits and proteins all well balanced. To avoid diabetes there should be a daily energy balance. Calories we take in as food should be spent through physical activities to sidestep diabetes, heart diseases, strokes and obesity.
How far have you been successful in diffusing knowledge of public health among the masses?
One of my personal goals was to work with the world to educate everyone on all non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases, lung cancer, diabetes, obesity etc. So far this has been successful with positive results and I look forward to disseminate this knowledge and raise more awareness among people comprising both the young and old as I have done before.
Arun message is evidence based and practical which is relevant not only to SL but other developing countries as well.we really need to act now and focus on Public Health approaches.Dr JS Thakur President World NCD FederationChandigarh India.
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