Our generation’s big responsibility: fix NCDs.
Why the girl child is vitally important
By Nalini Saligram and the Arogya World team
This is part of a series of opinion pieces from members of the Taskforce on Women and NCDs.
The September 23 UN meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in New York is an important time to reflect on why it is vital for the world to focus on the girl child.
The problem of ensuring that everyone, everywhere gets the healthcare they need, affordably, is so big that governments don’t know where to begin. Here is our suggestion: start with the girl child. Make sure that she is well-educated, so she can lift her family out of poverty. Ensure she can read and write, to help prepare her to work and earn a living and become an engaged and productive contributor to society. That way, she can live her dreams for herself, her family and the community.
We must also help her in other important ways:
1. Meet her healthcare needs.
2. Educate her on her sexual and reproductive health rights as she grows to become a woman. Ensure she has access to clean water, that her feminine hygiene needs are met, and that she is up-to-date on her vaccinations, including for HPV.
3. Educate and empower her to say “no” to smoking and drugs
4. Educate her on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), among the biggest challenges of our generation. Help her understand that they can largely be prevented through healthy living. Teach her that according to the WHO, just three lifestyle changes can prevent 80% of heart disease, 80% of diabetes cases and 40% of cancers: eat right, increase physical activity, and avoid tobacco.
5. To ensure her own overall health and wellbeing, teach her to eat right, and participate in sports and physical activity.
6. Help her understand her role in her future family knowing that she can steer them towards healthy living by:
· Eating home-cooked meals. Eating out increases the risk for heart disease.
· Reducing the junk food and sugary drinks purchased in her household.
· Enrolling her daughters and sons in team sports.
7. It is critical that every adolescent girl everywhere knows that if she has a child when she grows up, the best leg up she can give that future child starts with a safe and healthy pregnancy and a normal birth-weight baby. Low birth-weight babies have a higher risk for NCDs starting in their 30s. She can reduce her childrens’ risk for heart disease and diabetes from the get-go. A lifetime of future health is the best gift a woman can give her children.
8. Mental illness is the alarming health crisis of our times. A woman is in the best position to help her children and other young people cope with an increasingly complex world.
Much of our future depends on women and girls. Governments, corporations, NGOs and indeed, everyone that wants to leave the world a better place, must invest in women and girls.
At Arogya World, we are doing that through our NCD prevention work in India. We use a multipronged community approach and a doorstep health model to take prevention to people where they live, learn, and work. We have programs for all ages, and our work in India is showing good traction. See overview here.
Healthy Eating Education is Vital
Our program MyThali (which means “my plate”) demonstrates what to eat and in what quantities at each meal. As a pictorial representation of India’s National Institute of Nutrition guidelines, MyThali can easily be understood even if the girls in rural populations cant read or write very well. We have ambitious plans for promoting MyThali to women and girls in urban and rural India and adding to the momentum of a nationwide campaign on eating right.
We are producing meal plans that show how easily and readily MyThali can be adapted to different cuisines all over India, and infographics to persuade girls to mobilize all in the family and community to eat right. We have planned school and workplace info sessions, cooking shows and chef events, social media outreach and newspaper articles. With MyThali, we are prioritizing the health of women and girls, and recruiting them as allies to fundamentally change a nation’s attitudes to eating.
MyThali was born out of Arogya’s genuine respect for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s remarkable MyPlate, and our own study of 10,000 women in 10 countries on the impact of NCDs. The study showed that 25% of women from 10 countries spend 25% of household income on NCDs, and 1 in 10 women think they spend as much 50% of it. That is quite simply unsustainable and these grassroots perspectives call out loudly for universal health coverage (UHC). Having shown the real-world impact of NCDs on women as patients, caregivers, and mothers, we wanted to also come up with solutions uniquely suited to women and girls that we could leverage today to leave the world a healthier place for the next generation.
MyThali is part of a suite of Arogya World’s public health interventions designed for NCD prevention. We want to do our best to help fix the NCD crisis, tackle the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and come up with well-designed, population-level prevention solutions that work. At its core our plan has a simple foundation, which is to tackle one of the root causes of NCDs: unhealthy eating. Teach girls to eat right, and they will teach everyone else. MyThali is one of Arogya World’s sustaining solutions to change the course of NCDs in India. We are betting heavily on it. And we are betting heavily on women and girls. Governments, take note. And take steps to support the health and well being of this critical half of your population.
This article is authored by Nalini Saligram, Founder & CEO of Arogya World, on behalf of the Arogya World team. It is part of a series of opinion pieces from members of the Taskforce on Women and NCDs in advance of the UN General Assembly’s September 23 high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC.)