A personal experience of asking for blood donations for my now-deceased ailing father made me aware of some serious health issues in our society. For over eight months, I had to arrange blood at frequent intervals. Surprisingly, none of my requests was ever met with reluctance as youngsters aging between 19-30 years of age came forward to help without even knowing the patient and their details. They would spare four to five hours of their day giving blood and lots of prayers, besides offering to do more. Every time, it was a heart-touching scene to see these young and courageous faces lying on the bed and bleeding to save a life.
Equally pertinent here is to share an observation I made during this time. Out of the 13 times I needed blood donations, 10 of the donors were from economically well-to-do backgrounds — businessmen, young professionals, university students, etc. The process entailed filling out forms, and cross-matching and screening the blood to check for generally contagious diseases like hepatitis, malaria, typhoid and others. There came a day when I found myself exhausted of donors. A friend from a political background stepped in and sent six young boys to donate blood — possessing the same fervour to help — but hailing from a very different socio-economic background. They were labourers belonging to the Chungi Amar Sadhu, Kot Lakhpat, and Youhanabad areas of Lahore.
The experience of blood withdrawal was totally different. Every time their vitals were checked, they were found to be hypertensive. Their blood pressure would be as high as 210/120 or 160/100 while the normal maximum range for 19 to 27 year olds is 120/80 only. Even their pulse was as high as 132, in contrast to the of average 60 to 90.
It shocked me that out of the six donors that day, none was found to be healthy. It reminded me of the findings of research studies and surveys done by organisations, targeting the youth and claiming that youngsters hailing from lower income backgrounds were less interested in hard work as compared to those from higher income backgrounds.
Given the six donors, it was apparent that these youngsters may be fighting basic health issues, while being unaware of them and without these creating any major hurdles for them. Once older, they are suddenly engulfed in a number of medical problems and are often diagnosed with chronic diseases. They could have been carrying these diseases for a number of years, but are only diagnosed later, limiting their treatment options.
As a society, we are rather late in realising how socio-economic backgrounds affect the health of our youth and how the state health policy is failing to provide them with basic health facilities.
On ground, we offer tertiary healthcare facilities at the public level. Hospitals attend to the public in cases of emergencies, accidents or unless one is symptomatic of a fatal disease. Educational institutions offer medical camps periodically as well. But what about those children who are out of school? O those who have outgrown the school-going age? Where can a 20-year-old go if he is suffering from constant headaches, rapid heartbeat, lethargy and weakness — symptoms that are common among the youth yet overlooked?
We need serious policy-level interventions to safeguard the youth instead of merely asking them for votes during the elections, in order to uplift the health of the nation.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2019.