Public Health: An arena ignored by both Government and People


As public focus is on Khyber Agro Farm Ltd’s alleged misdemeanours , what is either glossed over or ignored by both the authorities and the public at large is the , “ in your face” abusive market practices of various retailers in Kashmir. These abuses are so pervasive and inherent that the public has become inured to these. Be it the butcher who displays mutton exposed to dust and grime, or the poultry wallahs who care two hoots about hygiene in the poultry value chain, or the nadur monj wallah or the seek tuj wallah- all are implicated in bad and abusive practices. These have public health implications and connotations. But the sad irony is that no one cares- not the government; not the public. The question is why?

There are basically two reasons for this: one, the public does not appear to care. It is either blissfully unaware of the explicit dangers of these practices and abuse and the health implications that follow.  Since the public is unaware, vendors , dealers and retailers neither feel the need nor pressure to indulge in more salutary and healthy practices. In the process, the government catches the bug too. Again , given that there is neither demand for action nor pressure, the authorities become lax and allow these unhealthy practices to continue under their very noses.

But there are public health issues involved here. We know that medical care is almost in a primitive state and stage in Kashmir. The operating assumption of medical practitioners and authorities is slanted towards diagnosis and that too of the superficial variety. In this schema, a patient is diagnosed with an illness, tests prescribed and then treatment given. But this is specious. What should be the focus and motto is: prevention is better than cure. This can be operationalized by making the public aware of bad and harmful dietary habits, and also raising awareness of healthy lifestyles. Here there is a critical role for the government. Its public health arm can and must take recourse to vigorous public health awareness campaigns to make the public aware of deleterious and harmful life styles and attendant themes. Once the public is aware, there can be a bottoms up demand for better market and retailing practices which in turn can generate pressure upon other departments to spur into action.

All in all then what is required is a holistic approach towards public health wherein the interests of  all stakeholders- government, public and businesses- get aligned towards public good. Initially, an element of coercion may have to be employed to make businesses conform to public health guidelines till it becomes a habit. This may mean light sentences or fines. This approach may be needed to be complemented by incentives. The right mixture of carrots and sticks can lead to a paradigm where good, ethical and sound practices get instituted – all for the sake of public good and welfare. Given the ruckus over Khyber, the time for instituting this paradigm may be now.


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