The problems of the haves differ substantially from those of the have-nots. Individuals in developing societies have to fight mainly against infectious and communicable diseases, while in the developed world the battles are mainly against lifestyle diseases. Yet, at a very fundamental level, the problems are the same-the fight is against distress, disability, and premature death; against human exploitation and for human development and self-actualisation; against the callousness to critical concerns in regimes and scientific power centres.
While there has been great progress in the treatment of individual diseases, human pathology continues to increase. Sicknesses are not decreasing in number, they are only changing in type.
The primary diseases of poverty like TB, malaria, and HIV/AIDS-and the often co-morbid and ubiquitous malnutrition-take their toll on helpless populations in developing countries. Poverty is not just income deprivation but capability deprivation and optimism deprivation as well.
While life expectancy may have increased in the haves, and infant and maternal mortality reduced, these gains have not necessarily ensured that well-being results. There are ever-multiplying numbers of individuals whose well-being is compromised due to lifestyle diseases. These diseases are the result of faulty lifestyles and the consequent crippling stress. But it serves no one's purpose to understand them as such. So, the prescription pad continues to prevail over lifestyle-change counselling or research.
The struggle to achieve well-being and positive health, to ensure longevity, to combat lifestyle stress and professional burnout, and to reduce psychosomatic ailments continues unabated, with hardly an end in sight.
We thus realise that morbidity, disability, and death assail all three societies: the ones with infectious diseases, the ones with diseases of poverty, and the ones with lifestyle diseases. If it is bacteria in their various forms that are the culprit in infectious diseases, it is poverty/deprivation in its various manifestations that is the culprit in poverty-related diseases, and it is lifestyle stress in its various avatars that is the culprit in lifestyle diseases. It is as though poverty and lifestyle stress have become the modern “bacteria” of developing and developed societies, respectively.
For those societies afflicted with diseases of poverty, of course, the prime concern is to escape from the deadly grip of poverty-disease-deprivation-helplessness; but, while so doing, they must be careful not to land in the lap of lifestyle diseases. For the haves, the need is to seek well-being, positive health, and inner rootedness; to ask science not only to give them new pills for new ills, but to define and study how negative emotions hamper health and how positive ones promote it; to find out what is inner peace, what is the connection between spirituality and health, what is well-being, what is self-actualisation, what prevents disease, what leads to longevity, how simplicity impacts health, what attitudes help cope with chronic sicknesses, how sicknesses can be reversed (not just treated), etc. Studies on well-being, longevity, and simplicity need the concerted attention of researchers.
The task ahead is cut out for each one of us: physician, patient, caregiver, biomedical researcher, writer/journalist, science administrator, policy maker, ethicist, man of religion, practitioner of alternate/complementary medicine, citizen of a world community, etc. Each one must do his or her bit to ensure freedom from disease and achieve well-being.
Those in the developed world have the means to make life meaningful but, often, have lost the meaning of life itself; those in the developing world are fighting for survival but, often, have recipes to make life meaningful. This is especially true of a society like India, which is rapidly emerging from its underdeveloped status. It is an ancient civilization, with a philosophical outlook based on a robust mix of the temporal and the spiritual, with vibrant indigenous biomedical and related disciplines, for example, Ayurveda, Yoga, etc. It also has a burgeoning corpus of modern biomedical knowledge in active conversation with the rest of the world. It should be especially careful that, while it does not negate the fruits of economic development and scientific/biomedical advance that seem to beckon it in this century, it does not also forget the values that have added meaning and purpose to life; values that the ancients bequeathed it, drawn from their experiential knowledge down the centuries.
The means that the developed have could combine with the recipes to make them meaningful that the developing have. That is the challenge ahead for mankind as it gropes its way out of poverty, disease, despair, alienation, anomie, and the ubiquitous all-devouring lifestyle stresses, and takes halting steps towards well-being and the glory of human development.