Project impact reports ignore effect on health

A NON-GOVERNMENTAL report on the state of India's health has expressed concern that environment impact assessments of development programmes almost always ignore their effect on people's health.

"What is important is that infrastructural projects that are sanctioned -- even after impact assessment -- might even be increasing morbidity (illness) or mortality, rather than reducing it," says the report prepared by the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI). The social environment should provide minimal conditions conducive to people's health and productivity, so that the destructive practices of resource use could be minimised.

The comprehensive report covers a wide spectrum of issues related to the changing health patterns among Indians. According to Alok Mukhopadhyay, VHAI executive director and editor of the report, there is a need for a "new paradigm of health care far removed from the current bio-medical model and closer to a socio- political and spiritual model." Health care, he added, has become a commodity to be bought and sold in the market.

Referring to the doctor-population ratio of 1:40 (250:10,000) and to the growth of health-destroying industries such as tobacco (US$ 35 billion), pesticides (US$ 14 billion), infant formulae (US$ 2.5 billion) and irrational and overpriced pharmaceuticals (US$ 100 billion) in the United States, Mukhopadhyay asks: "Is this the 'healthy' society that the rest of the world should emulate? Even this state of health is achieved by consuming the bulk of the world's natural resources. In short, the process of making the rest of the world as healthy as USA, will cause terminal illness for the earth as a whole."