a) Health Policy, Delivery of Health Services & Health Care
AU : Banerji D
TI : Health problems and health practices in modern India: A historical interpretation.
SO : INDIAN PRACTITIONER 1964, 17, 137-143.
DT : Per
AB :

In this paper an attempt is made to examine how the data from the history of medicine in India can help in formulating health programmes that deal with health problems as an integral part of the overall causation. India’s 5000 years of history provides an enormous perspective of the nature of man’s struggle against his environment starting from Indus Valley Civilization, the influence of Vedic Way of life of Buddhism, followed by frequent foreign invasions and general decline in the living standards of people. At the time of independence in 1947, India faced on one side, staggering problem of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, size in population and, on the other side, advantage of having ready made technological knowledge which could create effective weapons for dealing with these problems. An ecological analysis of the history of medicine in India shows an expansion of population due to availability of abundant resources, which meant an increase in prosperity and social development. Public health facilities of the city of Mohenjodaro were superior to all other communities of the ancient orient. Almost all households had bathrooms, latrines, often water closets and carefully built wells indicating the extent of health consciousness of ancient Indian people. During Ashokan period, there is existence of social medicine along the line of Buddhist ideology. Emperor Ashoka states that “all over his dominions and adjoining territories, medical treatment is provided for men and animals”. However, the radical changes that followed after the introduction of British rule dealt a fatal blow to the practice of the Indian System of Medicine. A shift to practical western medicine during Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries led to neglect of Indian medicine and further decline.

These historical data help in providing a better understanding of the genesis of the present situation and are also of immense importance for forecasting the pattern of health problems and health practices in the context of ecological changes that are expected to be brought about by other social development programmes, e.g., mechanisation of coal mining might influence the epidemiology of ankylostomiasis through better standard of living; conversely, effective ankylostomiasis programme may bring prosperity by increasing the productivity of the coal miners. This is known as Positive Circular cumulative causation phenomenon. Today, Indian society stands on the threshold of far reaching social, cultural and economic changes. Utilization of the scientific knowledge generated by Industrial Revolution for dealing with the health problem is essential for practicing modern medicine. A sound medical and public health programme must have a very sound infrastructure of overall social, cultural and economic development. In a natural process of social evolution, medical and public health services cannot grow without such an infrastructure. Even if it were hypothetically possible to create artificially (at an astronomical cost) efficient medical and public health services without correspondingly developing the infrastructure, the social benefits accruing from such services will be of doubtful significance. What benefits will a hypothetical ‘disease free’ state bring to a population that is otherwise ill fed, ill clad, and ill housed and illiterate?