Societies cannot thrive without good health, but sadly, good health is unclear to societies on the margins of society. Prior to Kovid, tribal and indigenous peoples around the world experienced lower life expectancy, maternal and child health and higher rates of infectious and non-infectious diseases. The coronavirus epidemic — food insecurity, loneliness, and subsequent loss of income — exacerbated these trends and further marginalized the vulnerable tribal and indigenous populations.
But India is well on its way to reversing these trends. Home to 28% of the world’s tribal people, it develops holistic boot-up strategies to improve health and well-being in local settings. India pioneers new initiatives to improve tribal health, creating a model for the rest of the world to empower indigenous communities. By working with local leaders to reduce knowledge gaps, strengthen last-mile service delivery and increase the capabilities of new technologies and partnerships, India will greatly improve the well-being of its 104 million tribal citizens and help the world reach its sustainable development goals by 2030. .
Frankly, this task is not so easy. For a variety of reasons, the life expectancy of tribal and indigenous peoples around the world is up to 20 years shorter than the rest of the population. More than half of domestic adults over the age of 35 suffer from type-2 diabetes. In India, despite limited data, sources suggest that a tribal woman is twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth. The tribal population of India is responsible for 50% of malaria deaths in the country, and tuberculosis is five times higher.
However, India has both the capacity and the responsibility to change how its most vulnerable citizens and communities receive health care. Doing so is crucial not only for the future of India, but also for the tribal and indigenous population around the world.
The challenge of improving tribal health and nutrition can be addressed with a three-pronged approach. First, there must be sufficient knowledge and tribal de-segregated data to make evidence-based policy decisions. Complex problems cannot be solved without a deep understanding of the root causes. India is not a homogeneous population; Language barriers, usually poor or lacking in data, can further lead to context-specific policies and a lack of interventions. Therefore, it is imperative to create and disseminate knowledge around tribal health and nutrition, to inform policy and to help dispel misconceptions in communities that discourage people from accessing and accessing health care.
Second, working with governments at every level should strengthen the delivery of health care at the last mile. While the universal access to health care is still unclear, the government is making the best efforts to bridge the gap with tribal-centric plans by implementing health and care centers in remote and tribal areas. In our past experience, whether it is operating in aspiring districts of India or elsewhere in the world, health care provision is not an affordable and accessible reality unless both the provision of health services and the health-seeking behavior of the community work together. . In other words, in order to achieve the bold goal of affecting 104 million people, the demand and supply sides of health services must be strengthened in parallel.
Finally, increasing new technologies and partnerships will improve both decision-making and patient care. New digital innovations, especially mobile applications and platforms, can connect people longitudinally, vertically and horizontally. The introduction of point-of-care devices will improve data collection and accountability in the health services sector. The National Digital Health Mission is an important step in the right direction and will help accelerate this digital transition.
Similarly, combining multiple partners around a partnership vision to improve tribal health can focus efforts for positive change. Several charities (including the Piramal Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and civic groups working in the tribal health area have recently formed a Tribal Health Cooperation. This unique and exciting initiative aims to eradicate all preventable diseases among the tribal communities of India in the coming decade. If successful, it will improve the lives of 100 million people at the very bottom of India and save more than 5 million lives from disease.
Through data, delivery, innovation and partnership — guided by service or selfless service — we help reduce the burden of disease, malnutrition and poor health for millions of people in India and around the world. Creating strong knowledge infrastructure will improve policy design, ensure effective utilization of health services at the last mile and ensure that new technology platforms intertwine these elements and help close the tribal health and nutrition loop.
This tripartite model of knowledge, implementation and technology will help us to realize our collective goal of a more equal society. If we adhere to it and invest now to improve the health and nutrition of the tribals, we can make a world of difference for those in need.
Swati Piramal and Mark Suzman are the Piramal Group Vice Chairperson and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Chief Executive Officer respectively.