In Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, Vivek H Murthy, former US Surgeon General, took up a theme that might not rank high in the minds of public health officials. Issues such as cancer, obesity, stress, and smoking might be high on their minds. But, Murthy explored another issue that deserves equal attention—loneliness.
He argues that it has intensified these days. “Modern progress has brought unprecedented advances that make it easier for us technically to connect, but often these advances create unforeseen challenges that make us feel more alone and disconnected. Thanks to advances in transportation, it’s easier than ever to visit friends and family, yet increased mobility also means that more and more of us are living far away from our loved ones. Thanks to advances in medicine, many of us are living longer than we ever imagined—but inevitably, we lose many of our friends along the way. And thanks to advances in technology, we can enjoy all the conveniences of community without directly interacting with other people. We can have whole meals delivered without setting foot in the restaurants that produced them; stream movies online and watch them alone at home instead of in a crowded theater; and order nearly anything imaginable from online shopping sites, never even seeing the messenger who deposits the goods at our door. Many of us also telecommute, interacting with customers and colleagues virtually, if at all. Human connection is being edged out, or at best left to fit in around the edges.”
Surrounded by tech, our lives have changed, but not necessarily for the better. He writes, “We are being tossed like twigs in a stiff breeze, unable to get our bearings as we unwittingly lose sight of what matters and who matters to us.”
Recognising what we are losing out by itself could be a first step in course correction. He quotes sociologist Parker J. Palmer: “There are two basic human yearnings. To feel at home in one’s own skin and to feel at home on this wonderful earth. To only connect with your own ego is to be in a very lonely place. Our sense of self is a communal construct. Whether you put it theologically or biologically, we are created for community. Without community, we struggle. It’s as if we didn’t have oxygen to breathe.”
In this issue
- Why Indian government must invest more in healthcare infrastructure
- A simple innovation to improve living conditions in Rwanda
- Back to the movies
Have a great Friday. And make sure you check out tomorrow’s FF Recommends. We have something interesting coming up.
Why Indian government must invest more in healthcare infrastructure
Writing in The Indian Express, Swati Narayan of National Institute of Advanced Studies, points out why India should invest more in public healthcare.
In India, she writes, “hospitals are beleaguered with absentee staff. As per a Niti Aayog database, in the worst state of Bihar in 2017-18, positions for 60% of midwives, 50% of staff nurses, 34% of medical officers and 60% of specialist doctors were vacant. Those on the job, despite being handsomely paid, are chronically overworked.
“Even after the pandemic, the Indian government continues to budget less than 1% of GDP for healthcare, one of the lowest in the world. In contrast, China invests around 3%, Britain 7% and the United States 17% of GDP. So, 62% of health expenses in India are paid for by patients themselves—one of the main reasons for families falling into poverty especially during the pandemic.”
Sometimes things move because of individual initiatives, but the problem remains at systemic level. Narayan writes, “The Covid-19 oxygen crisis could certainly have been prevented. But the central government delayed by eight months a Rs 200-crore tender to build oxygen plants across 150 district hospitals. In contrast, prescient district collector Dr Rajendra Bharud set up multiple oxygen units in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar before the second wave. Kerala, the only oxygen-surplus state, also increased production capacity in 2020 in anticipation of a demand surge.”
A simple innovation to improve living conditions
Bloomberg CityLab has a fascinating story of how a non-profit improved the lives of children and their parents in Africa. It’s by solving a problem that can literally hit your face from the floor inside houses—dirt.
CityLab reports: “When Gayatri Datar and some of her classmates from Stanford University travelled to Rwanda for a course on entrepreneurial design for extreme affordability, they encountered a country where around 75% of the population lived on dirt floors. Coughing was common from dust clouds formed during sweeping. Rain filled houses with mud and insects. And fecal matter, from humans and animals, was often on the ground.
“While earlier public health programmes focused on replacing dirt floors with concrete, EarthEnable sought out an alternative that wouldn’t create as many greenhouse gas emissions as producing concrete. Datar teamed up with her former classmate, Rick Zuzow, who studied biochemistry and was her co-founder in starting the organization. Zuzow created a flaxseed oil that, when poured over an earthen floor, dries to form a plastic-like, waterproof and sustainable resin that glues the surface together. The flaxseed is currently imported from India, but EarthEnable is planning to harvest it in Kenya to keep the entire project more local.”
Back to the movies
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