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Urban Indian woman's health: A case of neglect

Last updated on: March 8, 2010 16:13 IST

Urban Indian woman's health: A case of neglect

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The urban Indian woman might have come a long way as far as her career and social well-being is concerned; however she still remains nonchalant about her personal well-being and health. TWF correspondent Ritusmita Biswas analyses this contradictory trend on Women's Day on March 8.

I am natural winner and I had always believed that nothing but the best can happen to me! If only I had thought that even I can be sick. If only I had known that cancer will not spare me too despite my looks, my fitness, my job and pay packet. If only I had taken some time out for myself .
From the blog of Vandana Misra (Uterine Cancer Stage III patient)

The modern Indian urban mother might be overtly worried about the health of her child and the well being of her family but she is among the most neglected persons in her house. Juggling hard between her career and domestic responsibilities she fails to take time off for her health checkup. The results can often be disastrous.

Take the case of Vandana Misra, a high flying executive with zeal towards life. A topper in school and college Vandana was always an achiever and never knew a day of sickness in her life. So last September when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 of Uterine cancer she was aghast. There was nothing more to be done and as Vandana slips slowly towards death she wishes if only she had spared some time for herself.

Patients like Vandana are not rare, feels Dr Swapan Bhattacharya who specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology and has been practising for over 20 years now. "There are many ailments which can be prevented if diagnosed at an early stage; however in many cases the patient reaches us late and then we can hardly do anything."

"To an extent it is definitely true that urban Indian woman is not conscious about her health at all. She does not understand the importance of regular checkup or visiting a medical practitioner for lifestyle advice," Dr Bhattacharya opines.

Agrees Sanjay Prasad, CEO and executive director of Mercy Hospital: "The modern mother today has many responsibilities, which she needs to handle together with the well-being of her family. As a result, while she is always concerned about the health of her child, sometimes her own health takes a backseat -- she works long hours to keep the family income up-to-requirement, she keeps late nights finishing off household chores, and she often neglects her own medical appointments, because she must take her children to tuition or do something else."

This is indeed true, feels IT professional Rita Banerjee, 38 and mother of two school going kids. "Every day I barely get the time to take a proper shower and so going to doctor for every minor symptom seems totally a waste of time." However when asked about if she ever misses taking her kids to doctor she smiles and says that "children's doctor visits cannot be avoided at any cost."


Photographs: Trans World Features
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How harmful can this lack of concern for health be?

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Sneha Upadhaya agrees that going to regular medical visits would be a good idea provided one could find the time. "We are conscious and aware about how it is more essential for women than men to have regular health checkups on various issues like cervical cancer, osteoporosis etc, but what we lack is time. We are overburdened with work both on the professional and personal front and therefore the only place where we can compromise is on our personal well-being," she says.

Homeopathic doctor and vice-president in Dr Batra's, Dr Ushma Batra agrees to this and says that in Indian context a woman's life revolves around three domains -- Family, Office, and Self. "Given this fact it cannot be denied that she would always prioritize her needs in the following hierarchy Family, Office, and Self. So despite being conscious about potential diseases she might become a victim too as she never usually bothers to go for check up."

How harmful can this lack of concern for health be? Let's take a look at a particular disease which can soon assume menacing proportion in India. A recent survey done by WHO reveals that every year 1,32,082 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 74,118 die from the disease. In fact cervical cancer ranks as the most frequent cancer among women in India. Not only cervical cancer but also osteoporosis and other lifestyle ailments are fast catching up with Indian urban females. Despite such impending threats looming large it seems she still remains nonchalant about her health.

Marc Robinson, fashion and contestant director, PFMIE 2010, who was recently in Kolkata to judge a beauty pageant says: "It is true women today want to look good and stay slim. What they however forget is that staying healthy is a must if one wants to enjoy the bounty of life and stay beautiful."

Actress June Maliah feels that modern Indian urban woman is today determined to be a super achiever.  "She wants to work, maintain a perfect family, raise beautiful kids, learn salsa -- moreover she is super confident and feels she is invincible. So in most cases they tend to overlook small problems and do not want to psyche themselves over health issues."


Photographs: Rediff Archives
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Health tips from experts

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Things however seem to be different in rural areas where there are adequate healthcare and sanitation facilities. MA Wohab of Southern Health Improvement Society (SHIS) that is doing significant work on the domains if woman's health in West Bengal feels that rural woman of today are indeed conscious.

"We have a health network in villages where each woman reminds the other about the importance of health check up, regular doctor visits and need for proper treatment. In most cases these women are the bread earners of a family.  So they realise the importance of staying well and naturally they are conscious."

Mr Wohab feels that women in such rural areas are seeing light after ages of darkness and so they are determined to move toward the better life which includes good healthcare.

"Earlier maternal mortality was the norm but now in our region they know that there are proper health facilities and no one needs to die in child birth. As a result they are keen to make use of these amended facilities and at the same time they are eager to ensure that no one around them should die for want of information as well as consciousness. In a way they push each other to stay well," he says.

This seems to be lacking in the urban scenario where despite the presence of awareness and facilities the woman is locked in the vortex of work life struggle. At the same time she lacks a peer group to motivate her to go for regular checkup and stop lifestyle ailments at its onsets. Trapped in the mesh of her own loneliness the urban Indian woman often reaches to a point of no return as far as her health is concerned.

Health tips from experts:

Dr Swapan Bhattacharya
Physician (Obstetrics and Gynecology)

Regular medical check ups are a must. Woman who have a very hectic schedule need to take regular advice from their doctors regarding how to manage their health and keep themselves fit. Lifestyle coaching is essential.

Dr Ushma Batra
Homeopathic doctor and Vice President in Dr Batra's

External manifestations like loss of hair, skin pigmentation are in most cases related to internal disorders. Woman should therefore take note of these ailments and go for holistic cure methods immediately.

Preity Zinta
Actress and brand ambassador for Emami's cooking oil brand

The middle class urban Indian woman does not have access to gyms or other up market health care facilities. For her the kitchen is her gym and she has complete control over it. So she needs to select the right ingredient when cooking.

MA Wohab of Southern Health Improvement Society (SHIS)
Social worker working for over 30 years with woman's health issues

Like rural woman urban women too need to form a network. They need to inspire each other to stay in good heath.

Marc Robinson
Fitness Expert associated with Pantaloons Femina Miss India

Regular workouts are a must. One need not visit a gym for this and can do simple aerobic or yoga exercises at home.


Image: Actress Preity Zinta

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