Our generation’s big responsibility: fix NCDs

Why the girl child is vitally important

By Nalini Saligram and the Arogya World team

Arogya World teaching women about healthy eating through the MyThali program. / ©Arogya World

This is part of a series of opinion pieces from members of the Taskforce on Women and NCDs.

The September 23 UN meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in New York is an important time to reflect on why it is vital for the world to focus on the girl child.

The problem of ensuring that everyone, everywhere gets the healthcare they need, affordably, is so big that governments don’t know where to begin. Here is our suggestion: start with the girl child. Make sure that she is well-educated, so she can lift her family out of poverty. Ensure she can read and write, to help prepare her to work and earn a living and become an engaged and productive contributor to society. That way, she can live her dreams for herself, her family and the community.

It is vital to empower the health choices of girls and women, and for governments to prioritize the health and education of the girl child.

We must also help her in other important ways:

1. Meet her healthcare needs.

2. Educate her on her sexual and reproductive health rights as she grows to become a woman. Ensure she has access to clean water, that her feminine hygiene needs are met, and that she is up-to-date on her vaccinations, including for HPV.

3. Educate and empower her to say “no” to smoking and drugs

4. Educate her on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), among the biggest challenges of our generation. Help her understand that they can largely be prevented through healthy living. Teach her that according to the WHO, just three lifestyle changes can prevent 80% of heart disease, 80% of diabetes cases and 40% of cancers: eat right, increase physical activity, and avoid tobacco.

5. To ensure her own overall health and wellbeing, teach her to eat right, and participate in sports and physical activity.

6. Help her understand her role in her future family knowing that she can steer them towards healthy living by:

· Eating home-cooked meals. Eating out increases the risk for heart disease.

· Reducing the junk food and sugary drinks purchased in her household.

· Enrolling her daughters and sons in team sports.

7. It is critical that every adolescent girl everywhere knows that if she has a child when she grows up, the best leg up she can give that future child starts with a safe and healthy pregnancy and a normal birth-weight baby. Low birth-weight babies have a higher risk for NCDs starting in their 30s. She can reduce her childrens’ risk for heart disease and diabetes from the get-go. A lifetime of future health is the best gift a woman can give her children.

8. Mental illness is the alarming health crisis of our times. A woman is in the best position to help her children and other young people cope with an increasingly complex world.

Much of our future depends on women and girls. Governments, corporations, NGOs and indeed, everyone that wants to leave the world a better place, must invest in women and girls.

At Arogya World, we are doing that through our NCD prevention work in India. We use a multipronged community approach and a doorstep health model to take prevention to people where they live, learn, and work. We have programs for all ages, and our work in India is showing good traction. See overview here.

This post was originally published on Medium