Doctors across South India say anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a slight uptick in people seeking preventive healthcare. The trend, however, is being seen in urban centres, and a lot needs to happen on the rural front, say doctors.
“Due to the impact of Covid-19, in the last two years I have seen more people coming to me for preventive health checkups,” said a senior consultant physician at Yashoda Hospitals in Hyderabad, Dr Dilip Gude.
What is preventive care?
The Indian medical system has traditionally been more focused on curative healthcare, with an emphasis on treating illnesses once they have already manifested themselves.
However, with the rising burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, there is a growing realisation about the need for preventive healthcare.
“Preventive healthcare is an approach to healthcare that aims to prevent illnesses and diseases from occurring in the first place, rather than simply treating them after they have developed,” explained Dr Venkatasubbarao, an endocrinologist from Bengaluru.
He says preventive healthcare can include various activities, such as regular checkups and screenings, immunisations, healthy lifestyle habits, and disease prevention education.
It involves identifying risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing certain diseases, and taking steps to reduce or eliminate those risks.
What screenings are key in preventive healthcare?
Examples of preventive healthcare measures include getting regular physical examinations and blood, and urine tests, as well as screening for cancers such as breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
It also involves getting vaccinated against infectious diseases like influenza and HPV, practicing safe sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
Above all, it involves maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise — and quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and managing stress and mental health.
Why an uptick in preventive healthcare?
Doctors attribute the uptick in preventive care to the Covid-19 pandemic, amongst several other factors.
Dr Dilip Gude explains that Covid-19 has brought out diseases which were dormant and people were unaware of.
“People are getting aware of the diseases and come to me to check if they have any kind of NCD. Whether it is diabetes or hypertension or high cholestrol, they want it to be evaluated,” Dr Gude told South First.
Incidence of diabetes has also gone up after Covid-19, notes Dr Gude, adding that many people were not aware of being diabetic. Many learnt about it from post-covid check-ups. It also meant early detection, something that helps managing the lifestyle disease in a better manner.
Dr Sudha Menon, internal medicine specialist at Fortis Hospital, however, does not see a very significant uptick in preventive healthcare, but says the easy availability of home-based health checkup packages has meant many people come to her with their reports for evaluation.
“An increased awareness of the importance of health maintenance after Covid is also a factor,” Dr Sudha says.
Which diseases are people concerned about?
A majority of preventive screenings, says Dr Sudha, have been for diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol issues, vitamin deficiencies, and thyroid disorders.
Adding to this list, Dr Siri M Kamath, senior consultant physician and Covid Task Force in-charge at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, says people are also testing for giddiness with or without headaches, respiratory tract allergies, anxiety and headache-related complaints.
Meanwhile, a senior diagnostic consultant at one of the well-known diagnostic centres in Bengaluru’s Jayanagar, notes the that number of people coming in to check their heart health, even without doctors’ advice, has gone up.
And women do come for mammograms, and an ultrasound scan of kidneys, and pelvic region to rule out any kind of cancers.
Doctors South First spoke to say preventive health checkups have risen most significantly in the age group 40 to 60 years.
While the youngsters are mostly coming in from the companies that seek a compulsory health checkup once a year, the older generation is concerned about their health after the pandemic, as they were most affected by it.
Problems with preventive healthcare
The healthcare system, however, still has to cater to the rural population.
While the state governments have made some efforts to address the enormous gap in our rural healthcare delivery, doctors say that primary healthcare, which focuses on preventing people from getting sick in the first place, is the only way out.
“The government has to make an extra effort to strengthen these primary healthcare centres. Even now, in several households, medicines get rationed and not everyone has the luxury of buying the prescribed medicines. When access to healthcare itself is a problem, prevention is a far-away dream,” says Dr venkatasubbarao.
Doctors say that in rural areas preventive care has to reach the doorstep. The screening programmes, free health camps, etc, must reach the panchayat level.
“Screening for NCDs should happen in schools, malnutrition should be addressed, mammograms, cancer screenings, etc, should be completely free,” Dr Venkatasubbarao told South First.
What can be done to improve rural preventive healthcare?
Dr Ranga Reddy Burri, chairman of the Public Health Committee of Indian Medical Association in Telangana, while wishing everyone on the occasion of World Health Days, notes that given India’s population is young, the rise in NCDs and CDs can turn into a burden.
People must take responsibility for their health and wellness, and pledge to take the right steps towards prevention for building a healthier and prosperous India and world, he says.
Preventive healthcare in rural South India can be challenging due to a lack of resources, infrastructure, and awareness.
However, doctors explain there are several initiatives and strategies that can be implemented to promote preventive healthcare in these areas.
Health Education: Health education programmes can be implemented in rural areas to increase awareness about the importance of preventive healthcare.
Immunisation Programmes: Immunisation programmes can be organised to ensure that children and adults are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, rubella, and polio.
Access to Clean Water: Access to clean drinking water is critical for preventing waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.
Nutrition Programmes: Malnutrition is a major health concern in rural areas, particularly among children.
Disease Screening: Regular health checkups and disease screening programmes can help detect health problems early on and prevent complications. This can be done through mobile health clinics, outreach programmes, and telemedicine services.
Health Infrastructure: Adequate health infrastructure, including primary health centers, hospitals, and diagnostic facilities, is essential for providing preventive healthcare services. Efforts can be made to improve the availability and quality of healthcare infrastructure in rural areas.
Health Insurance: Health insurance can be implemented to provide financial protection and access to healthcare services for people in rural areas. This can help ensure that people do not have to face financial hardship due to healthcare expenses.