Healthy Living
 
Simple Steps toward Better Global Health: Dr. Juan Garay      
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Global health is about thinking beyond our domestic health issues in a globalized world. There are things that are good for all humanity, and this is where our efforts should go to.

Halo, compassionate viewers, and welcome to today’s Healthy Living featuring Dr. Juan Garay Amores, health-team coordinator at the European Commission Directorate General for Development.

Originally from Spain, this noble public health physician spent many years in remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa, caring for children, mothers, the elderly and others in need. Seeking to be of service to the international community, in 2002 Dr. Garay joined the European Commission, where he continues to exercise his passion for bettering global health.

My main work, and I’m a doctor, has been on health, and that has been fascinating over this decade. I don’t think there is a decade in history that has brought so many changes in the international health and global health debates. And we are exactly now at the moment where global health thinking and approaches are dramatically changing.

So being at the heart of it and trying to push some ideas in the European Union of addressing global health challenges has been fascinating. My two main “babies” are the work on children’s rights, and of course, the continuous commitment to health in the world.

The most critical problem facing our planet today is climate change. Dr. Garay now shares his concerns about this crisis and explains its impact on world health.

I think climate change is going to affect us all. But in every change in society, those who are more vulnerable suffer most. Many of the populations in developing countries are more vulnerable to any disaster, because their social network, their capacities to respond to emergencies is lower. Climate change will lead us to challenges like increased temperatures, and effect both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

In the changes in the epidemiology of some communicable diseases, there is an estimate that probably up to a hundred-million more people will be exposed to malaria, with the current trend of climate change. In all those challenges the health systems in developing countries are not as well prepared to react to greater needs.

Another even more important challenge, in my opinion, is that climate change is going to affect the availability of food, the harvests in many regions of the world, and particularly those which are already more arid and warm.

So nutrition is a huge challenge in the world today, but also the availability of water. There are already more than a billion people that lack access to safe water, in combination with water and sanitation, which has not progressed much and many people in developing countries still live with very poor sanitation. And we really need to act.

Dr. Garay believes that a simple change each of us can make will not only help to mitigate climate change but also improve public health.

We can all live with far less than what we have. Not all, but I think many of us can do with less and not only not suffer from it, but probably enjoy life in a better way. So I think if we try a way of living which is a lot more simple, and reduce so much abundance we live with and link it with solidarity, there’s the first challenge of our society.

Dr. Garay has simplified his own life in one important way, and has experienced great benefits as a result.

I can be proud of saying that I’ve been for eight years in Brussels (Belgium), basically cycling. And cycling has changed my life. When I cycle every day in the morning, and I cycle some 16 kilometers into town, it's the best time for thinking. It's the time when no one is talking to you, where you're very often in nature, because Brussels is a very beautiful city, with so many forests and parks.

And with the oxygen, with your exercise, with the quietness, you have such a nice time to meditate and reflect and think. But it's also so good for your health. But it's good for others as well: You bring less noise; you bring less pollution; you bring even less traffic. So those things should be far more promoted than they are now. And so in our way of living, in our way of eating, in our way of consuming, we have a lot to contribute to a better world.

The health issues in the developed world are significantly different from those in developing countries. According to Dr. Garay, most of the diseases seen in developed nations are caused by lifestyle choices.

If we think of the most developed countries like Europe, and you're asking about our health conditions, the main attributable risks of ill health have to do with a way of living, which is not adapted to our own nature. We walk less than what we should be walking or exercise far less. So we're not using our body the way our body's prepared to be used. And we don't eat right. We don't rest right.

So we have a lot of diseases which are based on chronic inactivity and not very healthy diets with excess of fat, excess of calories, excess of particularly animal fat. So a lot of the conditions in Europe have to do with this unhealthy way of living. And therefore we have cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer disorders and chronic osteoarthritis, and a lot of these are due to this lifestyle.

And it's in contrast with what happens in the poorest parts of the world which, instead of little exercise, they often have conditions of overwork and sometimes very demanding physical situations. But they also have less nutrition than what they need in calories but mainly in proteins and in many micronutrients.

And so the main attributable risks of ill health in this part of the world, where most of these under-five children or mothers during their pregnancy, they die of issues related to nutrition, to poor water, to poor sanitation. And in fact, it exemplifies how unfairly distributed resources are in this world.

It is deeply saddening to see children going without enough to eat. Statistics show that young ones without proper nourishment can suffer on average up to 160 days of illness per year. Insufficient nutrition also intensifies the effects of a disease and causes the child even more anguish.

There are more than a billion people who are malnourished, who are living with some degree of hunger. They don't have enough calories, enough proteins, and enough micronutrients to develop themselves. This is often not even captured in health analyses.

For instance, in many of the developing countries and in Africa, the proportion of children who live with very low degrees of hemoglobin, with anemia, is amazing. And they don't go to the doctor. They just live with, let's say, low batteries. And of course, their psychological (development), particularly their academic, intellectual development and others are hampered. And this is really, really tragic while there are more than a billion people obese and this is growing.

Dr. Garay emphasizes that to improve global health we need to address the enormous imbalances in the distribution of resources, especially food.

So if someone would come down from Mars and ask, “What is going on here? You have 13-hundred-million people obese and ill and suffering from their obesity, and many others who are overweight, probably over two-billion more. And yet you let one-billion people go hungry? This is not about resources. There's something wrong in the way you are ruling your global community.”

One of the simplest ways to equitably share our planet’s wealth is through the global adoption of a plant-based diet. The livestock industry consumes 43% of the world's cereal production and 85% of the soy grown. By halting animal agriculture and redirecting that food to humankind, animal and human suffering will be alleviated. Dr. Garay does not eat meat, having been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

And so his friend convinced (Mahatma) Gandhi to have chicken that night. I don't know if you remember the story. So he had the chicken and then he spent the whole night dreaming about the chicken and how the chicken was crying inside his belly. And he had all these images. And he went back to a vegetarian diet. So I started trying and I must say I also heard some chickens crying inside.

And also that linked with my sensitivity for animal welfare. And I’ve seen animals suffering and it’s something terrible. I have not been in any situation where I had to kill an animal. But I know very well I could never do that. I respect all life as much as human life. And I thought that a coherent way of living was not to live on acts that I wouldn’t do myself.

Being a doctor as well, there was a sensitivity, let’s say, to life. But there was more to that because as a doctor I also started reflecting on our diets. And in fact, a large proportion of the animal food we take is animal fat and it is not healthy for the body.

Dr. Garay believes that if all of us, including children, try, we can truly change the world for the better.

I remember once how a group of children got involved in helping children in a remote village in Africa, and how that connection with letters and so on got them so excited. And at the end of the year they could see by raising money through their parents, through their families, through friends by even with a choir and singing they could build a well for that remote community.

And they saw the impact of that well in access to water on those other children. Those children will never forget that. They could see at seven, eight years of age that they can change the world. I think solidarity and communication is essential, but also living, I think, in a less destructive way, (both) in our diet and in our way of using resources.

Many thanks Dr. Juan Garay for devoting your life to improving global health and for your years of service to humanity. Through the love and care of people such as yourself, our world is truly uplifted.

Thank you cherished viewers for your company today on Healthy Living. Coming up next is Science and Spirituality, after Noteworthy News. May we all strive to protect and nurture those in need.

For more details on the European Commission Directorate General for Development, please visit www.EC.Europa.eu/development

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