Category Archives: Health

World Diabetes Day to focus on awareness

Today is World Diabetes Day that marks the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, WDD-logo-date-EN-2048pxthe man who discovered insulin in 1922 along with Charles Best.

The goal

The idea behind World Diabetes Day is to spread global awareness about diabetes mellitus. The day that was started by the International Diabetes Foundation and the World Health Organisation is celebrated every year on 14th November since 1991.

The Blue Monument Challenge

Since 2007, iconic monuments around the world have been lighting in blue, which is the colour of the blue circle of diabetes. So far over 1000 monuments in more than 80 countries have lit in blue in support of the cause. Previous monuments include London Eye and 10 Downing Street in London, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai Building (BMC) in India, Empire State Building in USA and others.

In the UK this year, the Elizabeth Tower popularly known as the Big Ben, the BT tower and Trafalgar Square fountain will be lit in blue.

“Diabetes affects far too many people in London and across the UK. It is vitally important to raise awareness of a disease that is preventable and treatable and I am delighted to back this campaign. I hope it will encourage more people to get tested, but also inspire more of us to think about what can do to reduce the risks ourselves, by getting more active and eating more healthily,” said London Mayor Boris Johnson who will be lighting the Trafalgar Square fountain blue.

The Diabetes Atlas

On the occasion of World Diabetes Day, the International Diabetes Federation released the 6th edition of the Diabetes Atlas with an interactive map.

According to the latest Diabetes Atlas, 382 million people have diabetes and by 2035 this will rise to 592 million.

number of cases IDF regionBy the end of 2013, diabetes will have caused 5.1 million deaths and cost $548 billion in healthcare spending.

number of people with diabetes

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UK mums to be paid to breastfeed

New mums are being offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers in a bid to promote breastfeeding.

 A pilot scheme

An initial amount of £120 in shopping vouchers will be doled out if babies are fed naturally until they are six weeks old. Mothers will receive an additional £80 in shopping vouchers if they continue to breastfeed until their babies reach six months.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield are collaborating with experts in infant feeding research at the University of Dundee and health economics at Brunel University. The study is called Nourishing Start for Health that is being funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative.

The trial will involve 130 mothers in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire where breastfeeding is low. If this is successful, the scheme will later be rolled out to the rest of England.


There is no way to verify that babies are indeed being breastfed. However, mothers participating in this scheme have to fill in a form and the form has to be signed by midwives and health visitors to confirm that the baby has been breastfed.

The vouchers are meant to be used at high street shops and supermarkets. There is no system in place that would ensure that mothers don’t misuse the vouchers to buy alcohol and cigarettes.

Benefits of breastfeeding

Dr Clare Relton, principal investigator from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “Babies who are breastfed have fewer health problems such as upset tummies and chest infections, and are less likely to develop diabetes and obesity when they are older,”

For more information on breastfeeding, please click here


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A sneak peak into The Christie

I was in Manchester over the weekend and was privileged to have a preview of the new £35 million Christie cancer centre.

The Christie is the world’s largest clinical trials unit.

Chemotherapy chair for day patients

The Christie is the world’s largest clinical trials unit for cancer and the largest cancer treatment centre in Europe. The Christie registers around 12,500 new patients and treats about 40,000 patients every year.

The hospital has one of the largest clinical trials units in the United Kingdom for phase I/II cancer trials, with around 1,200 patients going on new trials.

The day patient treatment centre includes 70 beds, 65 treatment chairs, 19 consulting suites, blood room, pharmacy, researching sample processing laboratory and a state of the art pod system for transporting items around the Christie.

The centre will treat 600 patients a week and around 2,400 patients a year will be treated in the new clinical trials unit – double the number we currently treat.

The architecture

The centre has been designed in consultation with patients, using environmental friendly materials and maximising on the use of natural light.  A large glass atrium on the second floor will also maximise natural light and help create a peaceful atmosphere.

Undertaking research that will save lives.

The current cancer treatment is not always successful, the Christie wants to improve the condition of people with these diseases so that they can be better treated and the quality of life is improved. Professor John Radford, The Christie consultant and director of research says, “The way we do that is by running clinical trials. Over the last 20-30 years there have been huge improvements. We want to improve cancer outcomes for people with cancer as well as host clinical research.”

“Research taken in the centre will provide patients locally with the best possible care and will affect cancer research globally,” said Caroline Shaw, chief executive at The Christie.

Improving patient care with the UK’s largest chemotherapy unit

The centre has new chemotherapy services that will provide much better facilities for people receiving standard chemotherapy. “We can do everything is a more integrated and efficient manner. Our patients are at the heart of everything we do at the Christie. This centre will provide the best possible care for patients at the time of difficulty in their lives,” says Caroline.

“Everything we do is for cancer patients. It’s their stories that inspire us,” says Caroline

Kim, 19, from Blackpool was diagnosed with rare bone cancer in August 2009 and took part in the clinical trial. “It really scared me at first when they told me it was cancer as everything was going to change. I went through an intense six cycles of chemotherapy. Sometime I got the feeling that I just don’t want to carry on. I used to feel very drained by it. All the nurses were very helpful and supportive and that helped a lot to stay positive,” says Kim.

Nichola, 48, from Cheshire was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009. Her treatment included chemotherapy. “The Christie people were fantastic. They make you feel that cancer happens and that they have got the treatment and expertise. Now I have to visit my oncologist once every six months,” says Nichola.

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Who needs exercise when you have the Wii?

Today, for the first time, I tried the Nintendo Wii Fit and Wii Sports video games which turns exercise into a game. It consists of exercises using the Wii accessory Balance Board.

The Wii Fit has over 40 different activities divided in four categories – Yoga, Aerobics, Strength training and Balance games. The game first calculates the users Body Mass Index (BMI) before suggesting exercises. I tried the Balancing games, Hula-Hoop exercise and jogging.

At the end of 40 minutes, I burned 210 calories by jogging 3419 metres in 10 minutes and 623 hula-hoop spins in five minutes.

The Wii Sports has baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis. I tried boxing, bowling and tennis for about an hour. Now my arms ache. I am not a fan of gaming consoles but this one was worth trying. The Wii is healthier than sitting on the couch or playing other video games.

However, according to a study conducted by Mark Anders suggested that exercising using the Wii will use up the same amount of energy that a person uses by performing the same exercise without the Wii but it will burn half the amount of calories.

At the end of the exercise, I was panting and sweating which would have happened after any physical exercise. The Wii experience was like playing a game and the fitness was a bonus. Exercise was fun! The Wii is better than sitting around idle in the house but it is not as good as playing the real sport. The Wii may entice non-exercisers to motivate them to exercise and realise that fitness can be fun.

Could the Wii be the future of exercise?

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Sight for the Sightless

Tucked away in a bylane near the archaeological site Gilbert Hill at Andheri West is Andhakkshi Ashram. For the people here, their condition is not a deterrent. However they may be, they still strive to live their lives like anyone else would do.As you enter Andhakkshi Ashram, you are greeted with smiles of children and women. Andhakkshi Ashram is a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that provides shelter to abandoned women and children.Fatima Vengurlekar, the 56-year old dedicated director gave up a career as an airhostess for Air India to pursue her inner calling – service to people. Prior to Andhakkshi Ashram, she served as a volunteer in many organisations. “Whatever you may do in life, nothing gives you more fulfilment than serving people,” says Vengurlekar.

Andhakkshi Ashram was started 1937 as a rehabilitation centre for women with schizophrenia. However, today the organisation provides shelter to destitute, blind, mentally challenged and HIV + women and children. The organisation is run by the trust The Association for the Relief and Education for the Street and Needy Blind Indian Female. “Andhakkshi that means sight for the sightless, currently houses about 40 women and children,” says Vengurlekar.

Most of the inmates at Andhakkshi Ashram are mentally challenged and have been abandoned by their families. An example is Prabha who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and was abandoned by her family. After Prabha took to the streets, she was picked up a social worker and taken to Andhakkshi Ashram in 2002 where she was rehabilitated. Prabha is employed as a cook and that is her source of income. “Even though I am still on medication, my family respects me now because I give money at home and I am productive,” says Prabha.

Most of the women and children, says Vengurlekar, come from well to do families. Because of their mental illness, their families consider them as a liability and are ashamed to care for them. The criterion for admitting women and children into this home is that they have to be either blind, mentally challenged or HIV+. “The organisation provides many facilities that help inmates to get educated and gain skills for life that will help them earn a decent living thus making them independent,” says Vengurlekar. Anshakkshi Ashram gives these children an opportunity to live there, attend special schools and have other requirements met.

Four months back, the organisation has started Andhakkshi School that provides functional therapy for fine motor coordination. They also offer Speech Therapy for the speech and hearing impaired and Occupational Therapy to maximise the skills and ability of the differently-abled. A recent addition to the facilities is Chromotherapy (also known as colour therapy) that uses colour and light to balance energy wherever a persons body is lacking whether physical, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. “Through this physically, they feel better as their pains/aches are reduced and their immunity levels increase. Mentally and emotionally they feel secure, safe and strong. Their anger and irritability is reduced,” says Vengurlekar.

Andhakshi is dedicated to the mental and spiritual health of women and children using medication as well as alternative therapies. To widen their horizons and to reach out to more people, there is a Sacred space in Andhakshi which gives mental, emotional and spiritual guidance to people. This sacred space offers sessions and classes of alternative therapies, stress management courses, group and individual counselling and so on.

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Chronicles of a Story Teller

As Russi M Lala, veteran journalist and author walks into the Princess Victoria Memorial Gymkhana near Churchgate, delighted cries of “Russi, Russi” greet him from all sides. Russi LalaPeople walk up to him and shake his hand. He answers them all with an old-world friendly formality that seems to be characteristic of him.

It is difficult to associate this lively 78-year-old with age or disease. And yet for Lala, his battle with cancer has been the turning point in his life. “I was in the lift one day, when I felt the lump on my neck,” he says. Lala was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but he was not disheartened. JRD Tata, whose biography has been written by Lala, was the person who sent him abroad for treatment. “My confidence stemmed from my ignorance,” he recalls. “I was so stupid and busy that I did not realise the gravity of the situation. But when the treatment started, it was horrible.” Lala gives credit to Freny, his wife, for having been his strength and support during those trying times. To this day, the love and affection that he feels for her is visible. He revels in pampering her and being attentive to her every need.

“When cancer strikes, your approach to life and your own personality come alive. You focus on what you are within yourself,” he says. “The disease was an interruption in the busy hum of my life.” His positive attitude not only got him through the ordeal of the disease, but also inspired others around him.

Vandana Gupta, another cancer patient, who met Lala during the course of her treatment, had completely lost hope in life. Her conversations with Lala gave her back her zest for life and she went on to start a support group for cancer patients called ‘V Care’. Lala later wrote Celebration of the Cells, which is a book about his battle with the disease. The book is in the form of letters to Vandana Gupta. However, the book that he is best known for is Beyond the Last Blue Mountain — The Life of JRD Tata.

Lala considers himself quite fortunate for having got the opportunity to interact with JRD, and he is obviously very influenced by him. “He was a great human being. To have known him and been with him was a source of refinement,” Lala says. He recounts how while working on the biography, he had told JRD, “I am neither going to call you good nor great. Let the reader judge,” to which JRD responded with “That is as it should be”.

Lala started his career as a journalist with newspapers like the March and the Current in 1948 at the age of 19. “At that time, there was hardly any competition and very little advertising. We refused to print cigarette and liquor ads,” Lala observes. He has seen the field grow over the years and feels that journalism today is lighter and more interesting. He became the manager of the first Indian publishing house in London, the Asia Publishing House, and by 1964, he had co-founded the Himmat Weekly with Rajmohan Gandhi. “I was the only investigative journalist then,” he says.

His work in the Himmat Weekly was highly appreciated by the then director of the Tata Company, SA Sabavala, who invited Lala to write about the Tatas. This marked the beginning of his association with the company. Lala liked meeting people. “As an editor, I would meet people very often, but now, I am unable to go out frequently due to old age and illness,” he says. He wrote about 26 personalities, whom he had met during the course of his life and career in his second book, titled, Touch of Greatness: Encounters with the Eminent. Vinoba Bhave, Mother Teresa, Dalai Lama, Jayprakash Narayan and many others he met have inspired him.

Once with the Tata company, he served as director of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust for almost 18 years. He helped in setting up the JRD Tata Centre of Ecotechnology in Chennai and the Sir Dorabji Tata Centre for Research in Tropical Diseases. At present, he is the Chairman of the Centre for Advancement in Philanthropy in Mumbai, an organisation that assists other philanthropic institutions by advising them on various issues like legal matters, fund raising and so on. Currently, he is working on his next book, The Role of Purpose in Life.

His encounter with cancer led to the renewal of his faith in God. “When I was undergoing the last radiation, I suddenly realised that there is nothing more important than God. That moment of realisation has been the most important in my life,” he says. Today, Lala begins each day in solitude to strengthen his faith. Lala advises, “Live each day as if it were your last. You will then have no regrets, no enemies — only peace of mind.”


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