A student of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, USA, Karina Javalkar came to Pune to work with patients of Type 2 diabetes at a city clinic. She shares her insights with Shalaka Nalawade
Karina Javalkar is not your regular 19 year old. A few words with her, and you begin to see beyond her American accent, her mild yet confident demeanour, and realise it’s her focus, the diligence she’s putting into her research at her young age that set her apart.
A student at the University of North Carolina, USA, Karina was in India on the Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship 2013 to research about public health awareness amongst Indians, especially patients of Type 2 Diabetes. She was working alongside Dr Abhijeet Vaidya in his clinic to collect relevant data for the same. "In USA, I work with kids at the UNC Kidney Center as a Research Assistant. It’s very different from what I was doing here, but there is a link between the two," she informs.
There’s a story behind Karina’s choice of study. "It was my grandma’s health that prompted me," she shares, explaining, "She has diabetes and she suffered two heart attacks without knowing about it. She thought it was acid reflux! That’s the amount of ignorance about health in India." Another good example of this attitude, she says, is the way people address diabetes simply as ‘sugar’. "It’s a misconception that Type 2 diabetes is only to do with sugar intake. We have to also monitor our fatty food intake as that too is harmful, but not many people know it," she elaborates, emphasising the need for a lifestyle overhaul when diabetes sets in.
Karina’s observations have a lot to say about the state of public health in India. Through her work with the patients at Dr Vaidya’s clinic, Karina has noticed that not many people are aware about the exact conditions of their health. "The doctors have a lot of patients to observe in a day, so they tend to give the bare minimum information. It’s the patient’s duty to ask for more information. People tend to overlook small details that they ought to ask their doctor. In matters of health, even little details are important," she informs.
There are so many people who don’t even want to admit they have diabetes, she says. "Then there are others who simply stop taking medicines after they feel slightly better, without realising that they need to complete the course. The doctor alone cannot monitor all this. There needs to be a willingness to take one’s own health more seriously." She shares that of the 115 patients she observed for her research, only one woman knew everything about her condition!
Karina has made a little guide in Marathi for these patients. "The guide is based on a few books by Dr Vaidya. It has a lot of pictures so that it is easy for people to follow simple guidelines to take care of their health while continuing a healthy life with diabetes," she informs.
She does not have a completely negative impression about Indian health care though. "I am impressed with how open and trusting the patients are. How much good is done with few resources," she smiles. Karina plans to take up medicine in the future. "But I also know that medicine cannot exist without public health, hence this experience is going to help me," she adds, before signing off. Her experience is sure to benefit the patients she worked with, too!
26 August 2013