By Anil Bhanot
The health needs of Hindus and people from the Indian sub-continent are generally a little different from the local population, due primarily to a different diet and a sedentary lifestyle. There is a much higher risk of heart disease, problems with insulin and therefore diabetes, increased prevalence of anaemia, high cholesterol and blood pressure, etc.
We are all aware of these problems but what is needed is an education campaign just targeted at the Asian population. For instance, the south Indians eat a lot of rice but probably don'tknow that even rice has a fat, triglycyeride, that adversely affects the blood. Even for chapattis, which north Indians eat in abundance, people don'tknow that they actually bind blood, i.e. they prevent iron from being absorbed, which leads to iron deficiency. Iron is important for formation of haemoglobin, the red cells, and these problems are in fact more common among Asian women, particularly Hindu women because as women they tend to lose blood and as Hindus they are vegetarians.
Again, as vegetarians, Hindus eat a lot of milk products and these too are rich in fat. Of course, rice, chapattis, milk products are very much part of the Hindu staple diet, especially for the vegetarians and we are not suggesting that they change their habits; only they need to be made aware of the balance required from either other foods or supplements.
The other problem Asians face is the language barrier. We think there are a sufficient number of foreign doctors in the NHS to cater to the health problems of the Indian population but somehow the organisation surrounding this problem needs to be improved. Dr Raj Kumar cited an example to me where a Sikh priest was diagnosed as suffering from diarrhoea but when Dr Raj went on his rounds and talked to him in Hindi, he found out that the patient was actually having a heart attack. Dr Jaimin Patel cited a similar example where a Hindu woman just kept nodding her head to an English doctor who recorded a ?yes? to all the questions and when an Asian doctor, who was just passing by and simply stopped to converse with her, he found that all the answers in fact should have been ?no?. Presumably with the soft choice option, where the patient is required to fill a form at the outset, these problems will be resolved in time, we hope!
Another such problem is one of teenage pregnancy and these do happen sadly even among our community. They are rare but when they do happen, the consequences are far worse, rather devastating for the families. The girl is simply thrown out of the house and of course, she has no one to talk to. We do not have any support services; there are hardly any social workers even to meet the demand. Perhaps we need to try running targeted recruitment campaigns in areas where Asians are densely populated.
Finally, I?d just like to touch on the ancient Hindu health system of Ayurveda. Ayur mean life and veda means knowledge. Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to health problems, from body, senses, psyche and the soul. There are eight branches of Ayurveda, from medicine to surgery, and some of these practices come with the reciting of mantras even, that is, for the soul. It is basically a science to bring about equilibrium in the natural elements that make up our composition. In Hinduism we have three distinct bodies: the physical made up of five elements, ether, earth, air, water, and fire and then the aura made up of mind, intellect and ego, and finally, the transcendental body within us, loosely called the soul or the atma or divine light, which is beyond all other natural or supernatural elements. Ayurveda goes very deep into the imbalances that can occur among these elements and tries to redress the imbalance according to each illness or disease, particularly since there are in fact thousands of medicines dealing with all sorts of illnesses. Ayurveda rarely teats the symptoms but attempts to cure the disease on a permanent basis. It is a complex science and in India it takes several years of training. It does, however, worry us in the UK that for alternative medicine one can be licenced to practice after a mere six months? training. We believe that this could lead to a lot more problems. The way the energy levels are worked out to redress various equilibriums in this science are highly complex and we believe that Ayurveda could complement modern medicine, but only if it is approached with the right methodology and respect.
(General Secretary, Hindu Council, UK; www.hinducounciluk.org)