Written by Dr harold Gunatillake –Health Writer to websites, Sri Lankan and overseas newspapers and magazines
“Reading articles on health issues may inspire to initiate a Healthier Life Style- ought to be considered a priority in your life so precious to you.
Do not wait till your car breaks down on the road-side and make your family push to the closest garage. Check and replace parts at the scheduled times and run the vehicle smoothly.
Likewise, apply the same principles to your life. Get regular check -ups and make your life run smoothly.”
This is easily said and done, but not practical to stay keep fit in developing countries due to day to day livelihood problems. In the more affluent first world countries, ‘Medicare’, and universal schemes are established for people to have their medical check-ups carried out annually, even when healthy and well, at no cost to the individual, when requested by the respective medical practitioners. These health schemes cost immensely in socialized countries, but through taxes and other ways the law makers can stabilize their budgets.
Through such early investigatory procedures, you could take precautionary actions to prevent diseases prophylactically and improve wellbeing and life expectancy.
Sri Lanka can boast of a wonderful health system, rendering free services in government hospitals, and on the contrary, costing exorbitantly such services in the private hospital system. In spite such medical facilities availability, people do not seem to care to check on their health situations routinely before illnesses brew up. Some private companies have agreements with private hospitals to provide annual check-ups on their staff, but this facility is few and far between.
Another factor is the cost of such preliminary investigations in the private sector. Naturally, one would wait till one break down and then pay exorbitant fees for hospitalization, investigations, and doctors’ visits among other expenses. Some average wage earners even mortgage their properties to pay such health bills. In some situation the President’s fund subsidizes, for instance heart surgery and other life threatening or serious health conditions. Establishment of such funds benefits those who cannot pay health bills, and alleviate poverty, not available in most developing countries.
People should be made aware through the mass media and other sources, initiated through the Health experts, to educate the masses on health issues and non-communicable diseases and their prevention. Unfortunately, this is not happening adequately, may be due to costs involved in such planning, and the TV stations focus more on Tele-dramas, so popular.
There are hardly any books and magazines on general health issues, published locally, available in the bookshops and other outlets in Sri Lanka. Most of the books and magazines available are mainly cultural, historical, medical text, and science text books, among others. Lifestyle Health magazines are not available as in most advanced countries where one could purchase at the railway stations, airports and other public places.
More doctors and health personal in Sri Lanka need to focus on publishing health material, in all three spoken languages. Those who are not proficient in English are more handicapped, because most books and magazines on health subjects are difficult to be translated and time consuming, to elaborate the same knowledge and interpretations.
Doctors need to come on TV channels and talk on health topics for the ordinary person to understand. In most situations, the doctors talk as if they are delivering health talks to medical students and not the general masses, using words that the ordinary man in the street cannot fathom.
It is most disheartening to see the change of food eating patterns in Sri Lanka over the years. In the bye-gone days when the economy was more stable, and with better job satisfaction, people had opportunities to have a square home-cooked wholesome meal, meaning rice with other healthy curries with high fiber balancing the nutritional requirements, for both lunch and dinner.
Today, it appears that eating outside in little food outlets, from carts and wayside places, such foods like, hoppers, indiappans, kotta roti’s’ and Jaffna foods among others, are cheaper than time consuming home cooking which is beyond one’s salary packet, when other bills are included. One of the tourists from Australia, who visited ‘Kataragama’ told me quiet proudly that he visited your ‘hopper city’. The richer folk visit the Chinese food restaurants, hot food joints, plenty of them in Rajagiriya and Nawala in Colombo metropolis. The young ones are seen enjoying their American hot foods till late in places like McDonalds, and Pizza huts. What all this means is that people are eating more unwholesome tasty gourmet pleasure loving foods, full of saturated fats, carbohydrates and salt with low fiber.
These high calorie diets have been proved to cause obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, hypertensions, and so on.
The younger generation copying these American types of lifestyles, considered most fashionable, will bound to suffer from chronic non-communicable diseases. Mass education in schools and mass media should be implemented on good food habits, without delay. Parents also need advice on health issues.
Most of these food joints and outlets produce foods in a most unhygienic environment. I knew of a famous bakery in Wellawatte handling bread with open hands when giving to customers. When I pointed out the health problems involved in such food handling, the vendors laughed at me. Subsequently, with repeated reminding without being assaulted, they did implement handling the bread with the same carrier bag turn inside out. I have a feeling that such practices will slowly disappear with time and revert to their old unhygienic methods.
If you ever visit the kitchens of these respective food outlets, you would get a surprise and will not patronize them anymore. Another place to visit would be the lavatories.
Sri Lankan hospitality services other than the 5-star category of hotels will never change, despite health inspectors’ frequent visits. The country needs to progress economically for the ordinary person to value good health as an important issue.
There are so many food outlets and street food joints in the main cities in Sri Lanka, and the people are getting addicted to these unhygienic, fatty foods with lots of added salt. Home cooking is gradually disappearing, which can be understood because both husband and wife in each family works till late and it is much easier to buy some take away food on the way home and enjoy.
Today, with the COVID endemic, most people are jobless, and on the verge of starvation, and what is in for our people in the future may be ill-nutrition and more chronic debilitating illnesses.
Hopefully, with the foreign aid the country gets, such a sad situation is preventable.