Social factors and the health sector

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As things stand now, there is no dearth of information to a certain extent with regard to common health issues. Of course, there are riders for factors like remoteness, lack of access to information and knowledge etc. But generally, it is a fact that there is now more information available along with the health care delivery systems making its presence felt both in the public and private sector. The increasing number of chemist shops in both urban and rural settings is an indicator that health is an integral community concern. Here again, a lot still needs to be done and achieved in terms of quality medical care and treatment that is affordable and easily available to people cutting across where they are located, how much they can afford for treatment etc.

The interesting thing about health seeking behavior is that most often, one tends to delay getting a diagnosis or a medical consultation till the time our bodies start complaining. Over and above the complaints that our bodies register with us, there are social factors that subconsciously affect our health seeking attitude and practice. For example, our social behavior vis a vis health is different from our social behavior towards education. With the later, parents are determined that they see their children in a formal school by the time they are four years old. But the same parents may not be determined about undergoing health check ups as they enter their 40’s and 50’s, the stage where most diseases make their entry: blood pressure, heart issues, high cholesterol, diabetes to mention a few. With health, most of us tend to skirt around issues till the time something drastic happens that leads to medical consultations, their diagnosis and then treatment.

The social determinant towards health seeking behavior can be seen more clearly with the example of the HIV and AIDS services and programs available. In the late 90’s and the ensuing decade, the social norms of fear about HIV and AIDS coupled with ignorance contributed towards acute stigma and discrimination which led to people not stepping forth to seek services. Those who battled this social barrier lacked the support of affordable institutional care as we see today with free ART, medicines for opportunistic infections amongst others thereby limiting people from accessing whatever services were then in practice. Over the years of course, institutional support systems came in place and along with the advent of people living with HIV and AIDS coming to the fore to speak of their felt needs and to call for solutions, the specter if fear and ignorance attached to HIV and AIDS have changed to a more public health approach.

In a sense, health and health seeking behavior is a culmination of various factors at play, including of course, the whole economics of it. But if there is one area in the health sector that is not really talked and discussed at length and hence least understood is that of mental health where the general overview is that mental health must surely mean a sort of deviant from ‘sane’ behavior and something to be kept under wraps. Also, the traditional and conventional methods of prescribing medicines that suppress various manifestations of mental health without the supplementary component of counseling in Manipur has in a sense made mental health more individual based and one where the family is not involved. Yet one more area of mental health that is least discussed and understood is that of post partum depression, a clinical depression that can affect women after childbirth. In all the medical related process and stages that comes along with pregnancy, this area is totally left out with more focus on dietary support, vaccinations, dietary inputs and even post natal care of the child and the mother.

For those of us who think that health is only about a doctor-patient process, the truth is far off the mark for there are social factors that influence how one perceives health issues. To ensure better health for everyone, the impetus should not just be on focusing on improving institutional set up and train doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners but also to factor in cultural and social norms.

Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem

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