One health- isn’t it a bit late for that?

While discussing a school assignment on different birds with my second grader, we watched videos of humming bird drawing out honey from flowers and weaver birds weaving artful nests. I also told her about the first time I had seen green pigeons. A pair of these green birds had made a nest close to my window and I had watched over them for a couple of months, till two young little birds were added on their family and then the four had flown away together… on their onward journey. There is something satisfying in bird watching and the way they conduct themselves. Unlike any other member of the animal kingdom, birds are perhaps the most sober and dignified and sometimes great entertainment!

The assignment also had a question regarding which birds had her parents seen when they were young and were rarely seen nowadays. When I was growing up in my grandmother’s house, we were often surrounded by sparrows and sometimes a couple of cawing crows. I don’t see sparrows anymore, especially in the cities I have lived as an adult. I tried finding some data on sparrows, unfortunately there is not a lot of research done on them. Their numbers are low and the ones who made it have migrated to greener, less polluted suburbs and villages. Two things caught my eye in the past week. The term ‘one health’ which really means to have everyone who deals with human, animal and environment health on one platform. Since 60% of diseases in man have some sort of origin in animals and since in turn, man has contributed to effectively denude the environment off more than 60% of its resources, now man has decided that we should all work together if we are to save ourselves from animals and the depleting environment. This is the big health jargon of 2017 that will be used over and over on all research applications, debates and talks this year and perhaps till we move on to something more ‘in’.

The CDC page on One Health, mentions “One health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment (”. Isn’t it funny that it took us till 2017 to recognize that our health is connected to other beings around us? The real reason is perhaps that as researchers, we have all built our silos of working with our own folks with our own perceptions, like a medical professional may not be seen as a talented basic researcher, a  PhD is seen to be focused only on their bench work and not understand diseases, and veterinarians, well they have been completely dismissed from participating in any ‘serious research’ related platforms. As researchers, we have let our insecurities and sometimes dire selfishness keep us from sharing our results, collaborating and even talking openly about our interesting findings. When we cannot build bridges across our own fraternity, how will we come together on an unified ‘one health’ platform and work together to better our environment?

And why veterinarians alone? We should also partner with anthropologists who learn from living with communities who are closer to nature. The indigenous tribesmen of any country have been practicing living in harmony with nature for as long as the human civilization. We should perhaps seek our ‘one health’ answers from them.

The other item that I found interesting was that telomeres seem to grow longer in space. Isn’t it interesting that telomere which dictate ageing in an individual, grow longer in space? Was the incident a one off, or was it due to space being untouched by pollution, untouched by man as yet? Anyways, since we haven’t been able to find another earth to call our home yet, we should like our own spiritual growth, ‘look inwards’.

Would one health change our perceptions about working with each other for a better world?….only time will tell. Till then, I hope someone somewhere works on sparrows and  brings them back to my neighborhood!



Intergenerational transmission of poverty and escaping the poverty trap

Image result for intergenerational poverty india

Last weekend I watched a delightful movie on something quite close to my heart. ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ depicted a mother and daughter’s journey through life. There were several moments which I could totally identify with. It was superb acting by a very able cast and although the subject was very down to earth, of a mother’s trials to provide a good future for her daughter, the cinema did do justice to balance all emotions very well. The teenage daughter had already resigned to the fact that her mother wouldn’t be able to put her through an expensive higher education, and had gone ahead and explored options of choosing a career as a nanny, something within her realms and ability.

A few days ago I was involved in a project dealing with intergenerational transmission of poverty and some of the dialogues in the movie brought back thoughts from work. The mother depicted in the movie was a daily wage earner, working in the informal sector. In India and many other lower and middle income countries, there is a huge section of population working in the informal sector and most survive on day to day earnings. Some don’t have enough to meet their daily needs and most do not have anything to save for the future. And this brings in another worry of a huge population of elderly people resulting from the same informal sector, without any sort of retirement savings.

I strongly feel that every human has a right to dream a rosy future and somewhere when one is consumed with thoughts solely of how they/their family can survive the next day, life is not completely justified. There is some information from research and mostly from the field of economics that intergenerational poverty is transmitted from parent to children especially in those living below the poverty line (BPL). Somewhere, there is a little mismatch, since the huge middle class strata of India, which extends from those just above the poverty line to those doing very well, often times demonstrate examples of children capable of attaining their dreams through hard work and education loans and scholarships and being able to climb from one strata to that higher. This is somehow extremely difficult for the poorest of the poor (BPL), even though many of the schools have very similar opportunities for growth. Additional aspects such as health and nutrition have been implied to add to lower school attendance in children and the reasons for being unable to escape the poverty trap become complex with multiple compounding factors.

What has been seen to work to some extent is conditional cash transfers (CCT). And more evidence from research is needed in this area. Pilot projects where cash transfers were made to the BPL families, tagged with compulsory school attendance, or availing government immunization/health programmes were seen to effect family nutrition and quality of life in a positive manner. School attendance also improved due to better nutrition and health. This would probably be a mechanism to escape the poverty trap. However, much more needs to be done in a proper structured manner. Also the process for CCT needs to be efficient without involving too many intermediaries that can raise avenues for corruption or bureaucracy or both (one stop mobile money transfer has worked well in Kenya). Community cooperatives also work to some extent, however, a strong community engagement, community participatory action methods are needed to be explored.

I am often frustrated that researchers do not come together to build sustainable projects. Grants are mostly driven with motivation for a few publications, or a PhD degree or obtaining a faculty position. Sustainable projects can be made possible only by a multidisciplinary team and until researchers stop working in silos where an economist only works with another economist and a qualitative researcher only with their own folks, it will be very difficult to achieve anything meaningful on the ground. One can generate multiple models of why things are not working, but ground level realities require tangible practical solutions and most importantly, ones which are sustainable in minimum resource settings.

Picture acknowledgement- Asian Development Bank

Life’s ironies

We plan for our futures with great care and patience, and then life decides to host its own entertainment show. I am not indicating the small hindrances, that take us off route by a small distance, but those that take a life time to come to terms with and at the end, still leave us unsure.
Take for instance Charles Darwin (sorry if those of you who know me exclaim here she goes again! But that man himself, was the biggest, most complex experiment ever on this planet). Here was a man on his way to become a clergyman, sailing on a boat to perhaps the most beautiful island on earth, and the last thing he had was a vacation through life!

What would I have done, if my profession was to preach the almighty’s attention to detail for each and every organism and which was personally handcrafted and bam! all I ended up doing was to collect evidence that there was no customized handcrafting and tender supervision, but species arose from outdoing themselves on an intense competitive race to survival. Before, I could even begin to devise logical arguments for others to accept my new theories, the first roadblock would be to convince myself about how my beliefs and conventions would shape up when all my years and years of thought processes would slowly have to make space for new, extreme ones.
If I were to meet him today, I would be very interested to know Darwin’s thoughts on religion more than his exciting voyages and well documented facts on evolution. However, from the historian’s accounts, it appears that he may have chosen a path that took him to a direction of evidence based research and spirituality at the same time, like a middle ground. That he had a sensitive and almost kind view of the almighty is reflected in his bitterness for the wasp that paralyzes caterpillars for nourishing its own eggs, the selfish act that Darwin indicated, cannot be an act of god.
There is nothing wrong in walking the mid path. We are free to believe in what makes us work and if being spiritual only nudges us towards the truth around us, so be it. Darwin never thought of himself as an atheist, although, towards the later part of his life, could not describe himself with certainty when it came to religious beliefs. It probably doesn’t matter. His contribution to science will continue to awe and inspire till there’s life on our planet. In spite of all odds, Darwin followed his passion. His drive to truly understand  natural scientific processes around him and more importantly elucidate his understanding of them, mattered more to him than anything else.

Many of us have and many of us will be faced with challenges such as these (but yes, there will be only ONE Darwin… at least for me!). However, we do not have to completely give up on our resident belief systems to accommodate space for the new ones.  Instead, we probably need to harmonize and create a path to seek whatever drives our hearts, instead of making a choice and not believing in that completely.

On his journey, Darwin did find compassionate and patient company around him, who may not have completely agreed with his thinking, nor understood them. However, they did support him as a person in providing him the strength he needed to seek his truth. Maybe that is the support we all need and seek, the patience to fit us all in, irrespective of our beliefs.
Alright, enough of preaching, but here’s a list of online goodies if you are interested to read more on….ahem…Darwin-
(Books-  Darwin: The life of a tormented evolutionist, Adrian Desmond and James Moore;  The autobiography of Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin , editor Nora Barlow)