21 May 2010
By Pushpa Narayan
Despite the health department’s ambitious project to provide health for all, a study by a citybased hospital and research centre shows how poverty has pushed Chennai’s slum dwellers into a series of health problems and chronic disorders. The study has generated interest among healthcare experts particularly because many feel the city’s epidemic pattern of diabetes is beginning to see a change.
A study by MV Hospital for diabetes led by Dr Vijay Vishwanathan, which screened over 900 people, showed that at least 17.2% of them had respiratory illness and 13.5% had other infections. Anaemia was high among women of all age groups and many children were found to be underweight.
"In Chennai, more than 25% of the total population are slum dwellers. About 40% of this slum population live along the rivers and canals and the rest are on the pavements.
We saw how slums are largely neglected in terms of provision of healthcare facilities," says Dr Vijay Vishwanathan.
His team carried out the study to explore the living conditions and determining the healthrelated problems that affect the underprivileged section of the urban population from all parts of Chennai. The study published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine got 326 men and 574 women to answer a questionnaire covering socio–demographic details, housing and environmental details, health problems, and behaviour. They were then taken to a hospital for clinical examination.
The Dr V Mohan of Madras Diabetes Research Foundation says the epidemic pattern of lifestyle disorders is beginning to see a change even within cities. "I term the causes as affluenza or sedentarism," he said.
"Diabetes was once called the rich man’s disease. In 10 years, it is likely to become the disease of the poor. And we are seeing differences even within the city. Our study has shown a slowdown in the incidence of diabetes in the middle and upper middle class because they are aware and they can afford exercises. Those in slum earn better than what they used to ten years ago.
Today, many slum dwellers have two–wheelers instead of bicycles. The lack of physical activity and consumption of packaged foods and aerated drinks are showing on their health," says Dr Mohan.