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Vaccine Cartoon

Towards an Immune India – The Long Journey Ahead!

Be it the epic battles of the Mahabharata, the arcane wars of the Bible’s Old Testament, or present day high-tech wars using missiles and drones, it is the fight between good and evil that holds sway. Our conscience is ridden with contrasting images of Ram versus Ravan, Angel versus Devil, God versus Satan, Friend versus Foe, Bush versus Sadaam, Obama versus Osama, Good versus Evil and so forth. I think you get the idea. We are so obsessed with the concept of a constant war being fought between good and evil, that it is the only way we understand anything and everything!

Good vs Evil

Ever wondered what happens to our body when we get the ‘flu’. Let me tell you. Our body turns into a bloody battlefield, metaphorically speaking, and our immune system goes into a hyper drive causing all the snorts and sniffles in an effort to drive out the culprit. To understand what goes on behind the scenes, let us learn a thing or two about immunity by dwelling on our obsession of epic battles set in the pre-renaissance period between two warring kingdoms!

[box type=”note”]Imagine a war scenario during the pre-renaissance period – a glorious age of kings and queens, of knights and gladiators, of archers and cavalry, of swords and daggers, of arrows and spears and of sweat and blood.[/box]

Similarly, a war is raging inside you right now and your precious body is a busy battlefield. Constant battles are being fought over gaining control of this or that part of your body – your skin, nose, ears, intestines, lungs, heart, liver and other organs. There is mayhem out there. The enemy is strong and your defences have to hold!

Every day, thousands, if not millions of miniscule microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites use stealth to sneak inside your body, and if that fails, they use brute force to gain access to your body having breached your defences. The skin and mucous membranes of the body form the first line of defence, like the mighty walls of a fortress. When these formidable walls are breached, it is the puny warrior cells within your body’s immune system that does all the fighting.

war in action

In this war, some battles are won making you fit, while others are lost making you sick. Well, that’s how your body works! It is when these tireless warriors within you fail due to your negligence or against formidable forces of the enemy that you fall sick – you catch a cold, run a temperature, frequent the loo, or occasionally, develop a more serious illness! Actually, you are under siege by an army of microorganisms attacking membranes inside your body.

However strong a fortress might be, the ultimate outcome of a war depends on brave soldiers, dedicated warriors trained for battle within the walls of the fortress. Training your body for war against germs is very much the same. Each soldier has a specific role in the army and is trained to do his particular job – there are blacksmiths, foot soldiers, archers, cavalry, and of course, there are mighty cannon handlers.

Your body’s first line of defence is a physical one, just like the walls of a fortress – the skin and mucous membranes form a barrier good enough to defend most attacks! The enemy has to breach this first line of defence to dominate. Once these mighty walls are breached, the onus is upon multifarious warriors with different skills to fight and defend your body. Your body’s internal defences, known as the immune system, is made up of warrior cells that kill, cells that recognize the enemy, cells that produce the ammo, cells on a suicide mission, cells that resist invasion, cells that fend off germs and cells that cause diversion. This huge army of cells defend your body from invasion by any enemy. Anything foreign entering your bodies is suitably neutralised or destroyed by the immune system before it can cause damage to your bodies. But if your army is weak, you will lose ground and thus fall sick.

Sometimes, I like to think of health as a game of cards. The moment you have a weak hand, you lose. Similarly, when your immune system is weak and worn out, you lose and the germs win. Result – illness!

What is Immunity?

Immunity is a specific defensive response of a host when a foreign substance or organism invades it. Simply put, it is the body’s inherent ability to defend itself from any foreign substance or organism. An army of B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells trained for the job, and other parts of the immune system, counterattack, ripping any adventurous microbes to pieces.

[box type=”blue”]I couldn't resist putting this kids video to show you how the immune system works.[/box]

You must have seen the devastating effects of a decreased number of CD4+ T-cells among PLWHA, who are prone to myriad infections. The lack of immunity makes one realise its importance.

There are 2 types of immunity, namely:

  1. Innate Immunity: This is like a general insurance cover, one cover for all purposes. The skin and mucous membranes make up most of it like the walls of a fortress keeping out all enemies, no matter what shape or size.
  2. Acquired Immunity: It is specific to the threat and is acquired after exposure to a particular enemy, and hence the name. A minor attack by a particular enemy signals the body to prepare for a major invasion by the same foe and is the very principle upon which immunization is based.

Can you Improve your Body’s Immunity to Fight Diseases?

That’s a million dollar, if not a billion dollar question considering the money spent on researching just that question. In concept, immunity is bolstered by a healthy mix of proper diet, good personal habits, health supplements, and of course good old immunization!

What if you change your diet, or take health supplements, or exercise regularly? Will it improve your immune system? Speculations are rife, and so are misconceptions. Researchers have failed to find sufficient data to adequately prove that any of these perceived immunity-boosters actually improve our immunity.

So, does it mean that the numerous health products on the shelves of departmental stores, claiming to boost immunity take you for a ride? I don’t think that assumption would be justifiable. We should not discount the benefit offered by this herb or that tonic just on pure speculation, without valid evidence to the contrary. Probably, there must be some modulation of the immune system by ingredients within such preparations and should be taken into consideration before writing them off. All that can be said as of now is that, efficacy and uniformity of results produced by them, is yet to be proven and will need further research.

Based on recent research by various health experts, following recommendations may boost your immunity, if not improve your general health and wellbeing:

  1. Eat lots of fruits and veggies: Studies show that a diet rich in fruits and veggies help in preventing illnesses due to the vitamins and minerals in them. You might be thrilled to know that certain veggies of the brassica group have anti-cancer properties.
  2. Sleep adequately: Decreased sleep increases stress levels putting more burden on your immune system. I would be surprised if you haven’t seen it during your tests at school or college.
  3. Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise promotes the feel-good hormones that are good for your immune system. But, don’t overdo it as it may be more harmful than not exercising at all.
  4. Reduce Stress in your life: Stress causes a gush of stress hormones into the blood stream either pushing the disease-fighting immune cells in hyper-drive or completely switching them off. Understandably, both are bad.
  5. Quit Smoking: Smoking causes a number of illnesses and some studies comparing susceptibility of smokers with non-smokers to certain infectious diseases might serve as a good deterrent.
  6. Drink alcohol in moderation: Alcohol abuse is closely related to immunodeficiency making you susceptible to infections such as bacterial pneumonia and tuberculosis.
  7. Take Health Supplements: Natural health supplements such as Dabur chyawanprash may have some immune modulating effects and are thought to prevent illness and promote health and general wellbeing.
  8. Immunize against Preventable Diseases: Don’t forget to get your shots. Remember that the shots you took during your childhood might be ones keeping you alive. Immunization boosts immunity against specific killer diseases.

[box type=”note”]Of all the recommendations, I like the last one the best. Read on and you will know why![/box]

Bacteria

Training the Immune System – Preparing for Battle

Billions of live bacteria and viruses are injected across the globe on a daily basis, into clueless children, in the hope that they will prevent the very diseases they cause.

Sounds creepy, doesn’t it?

Well, that is exactly what you do when you take your little boy or girl for immunization. Of course, they are tempered versions of the bacteria or virus, and usually don’t cause disease. The saying, “What doesn’t kill you, only strengthens you” makes good sense while trying to understand the concept of immunization better.

Germs fighting germs is a concept that has caught our fancy. Look at immunization and more recently, probiotics. They have changed the way we think of microbes and how they can be used as weapons against other microbes. Like spies sent out to destroy the enemy by stealth, germs are sent out looking like the enemy themselves for tuning our immune system to respond to a possible attack or by simply competing with and eliminating the enemy.

Baby getting Injections

The origin of immunization is one of serendipity, a coincidence or chance discovery that has changed the concepts of prevention, the way we think about germs and the diseases they cause. It has given us an entirely new meaning to the old saying, “Prevention is better than Cure”. This time-tested adage holds true even today in spite of the rapid growth of modern medicine and the development of innovative technologies. In fact, it has become the slogan of the present generation.

The idea of immunity is nothing new, even though it was in the 18th century that the concepts of immunity were studied in great detail and exploited for prevention of killer diseases that had plagued humanity for thousands of years. Various killer diseases had ravaged humanity during this period and the world was battered by constant wars and epidemics. Smallpox single-handedly was responsible for 8-20% of all deaths in several European countries in the 18th century. Billions died with no cure in sight, and many more maimed for life. In recent times, we have seen what the pandemic flu virus (swine/bird flu) can do. The US has a dedicated Flu Website to tackle this menace. Number of deaths could be high. The U.S. death toll during the 1918 flu pandemic was approximately 6,75,000. The root word “pandemonium,” for pandemic rightly expresses it.

The Efficacy of Pertussis Vaccination

Skeptical about Efficacy of Immunisation? Click the Image for a Bigger Picture!

The recent outbreak of polio in Syria made it to the front page of newspapers and televised news across the globe. The whole of Europe is panic-stricken and rightly so. In the past, polio was a major disabling disease that had maimed millions for life.

Current Status of Immunization in India – Are we there yet?

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics of 2008, an estimated 1.5 million of deaths among under-5 children were due to diseases that could have been prevented by routine vaccination. You should be alarmed, as this represents 17% of global total mortality among children under 5.

Vaccine Preventable Deaths Under 5

Distribution of Vaccine Preventable Deaths among Under-5 Children

Immunisation is probably the single most cost effective way of improving survival in children in developing countries like India. Despite solid evidence to this effect, about two to three million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases annually.

India provides free immunization services through its public health care system under the Universal Immunization Programme, but only 44% of children aged 1-2 years receive the basic package of immunisations (BCG, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Poliomyelitis, Measles and Hepatitis-B) recommended by WHO and UNICEF, based on research data provided by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3). A recent study published in the Lancet shows very similar results. Worse still, this is a skewed figure which does not reflect figures across all cross-sections of the society. The figure dips to an abysmal 22% in some rural areas of the country where penetration of immunisation programmes is poor.

Vaccination Rate during 2005-2006

Despite these dismal figures, India officially became a polio-free nation on 25th February, 2012 after being struck off the list of polio-endemic countries by WHO. India had previously gained the notoriety of harbouring almost half of the world’s polio cases until very recently in 2009. Kudos to nation-wide efforts under the guise of Pulse Polio Immunization programme, an era of this crippling disease is finally over. Polio had previously crippled an estimated 2,00,000 children annually in India before the launch of Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Indian Polio Story

Now, only three countries in the world, namely Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, remain afflicted by endemic poliomyelitis.

Let this brilliant success serve as a beacon of light and as a hope for other vaccine-preventable diseases. Let us hope for effective immunization penetration across all cross-sections of our society for a more healthy and immune India for our children.

Armageddon is at Hand – Are you ready?

My idea of an Armageddon is a world filled with totally antibiotic resistant germs, superbugs that cause one pandemic after another – where no antibiotics work, and no cure in sight! The battle rages on, and to win, we will need the right weapons. What weapons will you choose? Whom will you trust your life with?

[box type=”blue”]I choose immunization! I can picture my little boys cringe and nod in disagreement. Come on kiddos, shots are good![/box]

Immunisation is the only weapon that will redeem us in the long haul, particularly with the advent of superbugs that are resistant to almost all known antibiotics. Well, let’s not forget age old wisdom and give Ayurveda a chance to prove that we have more to hope than just immunisation, to save the day. And hey, did you know that the tradition of inoculation, a crude form of vaccination, is ensconced in Ayurvedic texts and may have originated in India in 1000 BCE.

Now, who are you with against these formidable enemies? I bet you are thinking vaccines.

Immunization Delivery Systems – A painful saga ends?

[box type=”blue”]My kids would love to hear this part, but it might be a little too late for them.[/box]

Mark my words; your next vaccine might be delicious! Hmm, edible vaccines? Exactly, who likes painful shots? Oral Polio Vaccine and Oral Typhoid Vaccine are just starters to the whole menu of edible vaccines still cooking in the kitchen. You might just as well have vaccines for dinner or a yummy vaccine snack during lunch hour. “Waiter, vaccines on a platter please!”

Oral Pulse Polio Immunisation

Oral Polio Vaccine to the Rescue

Let us hope that the painful saga of injectable vaccines ends soon enough, and then, you can have live bacteria for breakfast, attenuated viruses for lunch and microbial cocktail for dinner. Just kidding!

Final Words on an Immune India

Disease Prevention is a buzzword that has been making the rounds among common people, as much as among the scientific community, especially after outbreaks of multi-drug resistant bugs that are resilient to the latest antibiotics. Some forward thinkers are even predicting a pre-antibiotic era, wherein antibiotics are sitting ducks against deadly superbugs. Are we prepared for this? The question is whether our body’s immunity is up to the task.

Let’s work together so that we make our country’s immunization programme a success and save many more lives in the process. 100% immunization coverage is possible if we give our 100%! The least we can do is to free our country of vaccine-preventable diseases, and then truly, we can have an Immune India.

Pulse Polio Immunisation Success

Let's replicate the success of Pulse Polio Immunisation

Let’s do our part – spread awareness about immunization, volunteer for immunization camps and projects, share our knowledge and resources about universal immunization and thus protect our children’s future, the future of India.

Jai Hind!

[box type=”note”]As fellow bloggers and Medical Island fans, do your part by sharing this article to as many of your friends as possible. Then, thank yourself for saving a child![/box]

[box type=”blue”]This article is part of the contest “An Immune India,” an initiative by Indiblogger and http://www.daburchyawanprash.com. Wishing everyone all the best for the contest![/box]


Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers

An Immune India

• Meet the Author • Dr. Lawrence Kindo


I am a Medical Professional with a passion for writing, blogging, playing, computers, and of course patient care. My writing in this medical blog will reflect my passion, and you are welcome to be a part of this venture. This medical blog is a tribute to all the great medical pioneers, and to the ultimate source of wisdom, God.


88 comments… add one
  • Just 44% children get the benefit of immunization program of the government. This is appalling. A higher percentage of GDP allocation is the call of the hour. You have rightly pointed out the neglect of rural areas where penetration of healthcare facilities is next to nothing.

    Very informative post. I am glad our future generation won’t face the needles for their immunity boosts.

    Reply
    • India needs to focus on its villages. My previous article mentioned India in a rural garb. Development and progress should percolate all segments of the society, not just the accessible ones. I hope this scenario changes soon.

      Thanks for your sharing your thoughts. All the best for the contest.

      Reply
  • Hello Doctor,
    Thank you first of all for reading my blog post.
    I loved your introduction the most and the pre renaissance war scenario too !
    I too had “If we can eradicate polio from our land then immunity too is possible” in my mind but forgot as I was in hurry to submit the post !!
    Good post !! It oozes wisdom from all sides !!
    All the best for the contest !!

    Reply
    • Wondered about the beginning for quite sometime and I feel it worked. I feel the ethos is missing when it comes to injectable vaccines. I hope it changes in the future.

      And all the best to you as well.

      Reply
  • Nice and informative article.

    Reply
  • Educative,informative and at the same time very creative!

    All the best for the contest.

    Reply
    • Thanks Neeraj for those encouraging words. Means a lot when readers love your writing and creative effort.

      Reply
  • Thank you for dropping by on my post Sir!!
    A wonderful post this is, and has a lot of information as well…!!
    All the best for the contest…:D

    Reply
    • Thanks Karan. Sure tried make it a useful post both in terms of info and creativity.

      Reply
  • Hey,

    Just read your post too. It is fabulous, entertaining and yet, most importantly informatively complete. I am still new at this, so if you don’t mind sharing, how did you do the boxes the the important snippets of info in your blog. I loved the way it highlighted them. Goodluck for your entry.

    Regards
    Sayali B P

    Reply
    • Thanks Sayali for your genuine appreciation. Sure feels good to get credit from a fellow blogger.

      I use Thesis Theme Framework on a self-hosted wordpress blog, and the nifty snippets you see are short-codes integrated into Thesis Skin by ThesisAwesome.com. I love the design and features so much that I haven’t upgraded Thesis from 1.5 to 2.1.

      If you need any further help, feel free to contact me through the contact page.

      Reply
  • The topic seems to favor medical practitioners like you!!! 🙂
    Very in-depth and good analysis as one can expect from a Doc!
    I liked the data, details and pics!
    Nice to see that we both hail India’s Pulse Polio programme in our Posts! May India achieve similar success in the entire health field!
    Best wishes to you for the contest!

    Reply
    • Hey Anita, I understand your feeling about favouring health professionals, but just think of it. I had to tone the writing to suit a common audience. It was tough to keep it from becoming too technical. Glad you liked it. I loved working it.

      Sure, Pulse Polio has been the star in our fight against dreaded diseases and a good start I guess. Hope India attains close to 100% coverage some time in the future.

      Reply
    • Same comments from me, going through the post you can definitely make out its the work of a medical practitioner..
      Nice detailed post, wishes for the contest..

      Reply
  • Hey good job!!!quite an intresting post

    Reply
  • The post is very informative and beautifully presented. This is going to be a very useful info for all. Thanks for sharing this wisdom. As a doctor you have justified your entry.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your encouraging words. And, I hope I have justified being a doctor well enough. Just trying to improve on my writing skills.

      Have a great day!

      Reply
  • Good post. Wins both in terms of facts and presentation. One of the strong contenders for prize.

    And thanks for reading my post.

    Reply
    • Hi Saket, Thanks for your appreciation. I wonder if the organizers and judges will take note. Anyways, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

      All the best and Good Day!

      Reply
  • Great post! You’ve made use of the pictures and the infographics effectively. All the best for the contest 🙂

    Reply
  • Hi! Thank you for appreciating my post. I found your post to be very informative and well written. Loved the presentation!! All the very best for the contest 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Gunjan. Really appreciate the encouraging words and best wishes.

      My best wishes to you for the contest!

      Reply
  • The post is very apt, the way you started it, introduced vaccines, and pointing out the stats everything comes in flow, forgetting this is about all contest, I would daringly say it is best!

    Reply
    • Hey Arthy, I am blushing! It is really heartening to know that you consider it the best. I have read quite a number of the entries for the contest, and I feel the competition would be tough. Anyways, there is no harm hoping for the best.

      My best wishes to you for the contest as well.

      Reply
  • No wonder this is a medicalisland…full of useful information …keep it up!

    Reply
    • Thanks Uma. I hardly remember how the name Medical Island struck a chord in my brain years ago when I just started blogging. Am trying to keep it fresh and useful!

      My best wishes to you for the contest.

      Reply
  • First time on your site.. Superb writeup. My vote only for you 🙂

    Reply
    • Hey Priya, That is really nice of you to choose my article for the only vote! It’s an honour. Thanks and may God bless you.

      Reply
  • Very well presented. Thanks for the post, I have learnt a lot today.

    Reply
    • Good to know that my efforts haven’t been fruitless. Keep visiting Medical Island!

      My best wishes to you and your family. God bless!

      Reply
  • Wonderful post, exceptionally creative and informative

    I didn’t know that the figures would be that disappointing for India.

    Good Luck for the contest
    🙂

    P.S: Thank you for taking out time to read my post, means a lot 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Harshita. Your encouraging words mean the world to me. And yes, regarding healthcare figures in India, it is really disappointing especially in the rural areas.

      Hope it changes in the future.

      Reply
  • Nice post and detailed description of immunity and facts related to it.

    My best wishes for the contest

    Reply
    • Thanks VSS and good day to you. Keep visiting Medical Island for more interesting stuff to come.

      Reply
  • You are the one who can preserve and keep future of India IMMUNE.

    Reply
    • Thanks Anoop. That is a huge task, and I hope to contribute in no small measure.

      Reply
  • Very insightful and informative article!
    All the best for the contest! 🙂

    Reply
  • nice post –fully researched –full of facts ,figures and fotos 🙂

    all the best for the contest and thanks a lot for appreciating my post

    best regards

    Reply
    • Thanks for your encouraging words, Rajni. And all the best for the contest.

      Reply
  • Wow this post is amazingly written and with a lot of intricate details throughout 🙂
    A really good comparison in the first two paragraphs….

    Reply
    • Thanks for a really nice feedback. It is comments like these that keep us bloggers going. All the best!

      Reply
  • Very Informative & nicely linked points!
    Me, being a Science teacher, could relate to the details and nuances of the topic, very well.
    All The Best. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Poonam. Glad you like it. I was worried that it was overkill. Learnt a few new stuff myself during the researching of the post. Cheers.

      Reply
  • Good one Lawrence,

    this article is full of information.

    Reply
  • WOW!! That’s such a comprehensive post!! Thanks a lot for sharing!
    All the best for the contest, Doc 🙂

    Reply
    • I thought it a good opportunity to share my knowledge and be heard! Thanks for your enthusiastic comments.

      Reply
  • so much of research into this! lovely! 🙂

    Reply
    • Well, did the best I could. Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words.

      Reply
  • Such an informative and wonderfully written post!

    Reply
  • beautiful and very informative…clearly your area of expertise . all the best 🙂

    Reply
  • Very informative and a nice read. Best of luck!

    Reply
    • Looks like my efforts to make it informative while keeping it interesting has paid good dividends. Thanks for visiting Medical Island!

      Reply
  • Hello Sir,

    Thanks a lot.. for dropping by on my blog post….
    Indeed its a fully informative and well explained writing … you are just expert to elaborate this topic…

    All the best for the contest.

    Reply
    • Thanks Nabanita for dropping by and enriching this discussion. All the best!

      Reply
  • thats a really nice article 🙂 The use of statistics and role of various agencies gives us a good idea of where we are and where we have to go next, to get to the goal of immune India.

    I also liked the images and videos you have used to make the content immersive and effective.. All the best for the contest. .Please keep writing and sharing your immense knowledge and deep insight

    Reply
    • Thanks Vivek for your thoughtful words and adding to the discussion. I hope I will be able to disseminate more info to a larger group in the future.

      Thanks again and have a great day!

      Reply
  • Very well written! All the best 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for the compliment and for the best wishes. My best wishes to you as well.

      Reply
  • Very detailed article that looks at the topic from all aspects. I wish there were more education targeted at the grassroots level, and more doctors willing to travel to remote villages so that we can as a country prevent these unnecessary deaths.

    Good luck for the contest!

    Reply
    • Talking of doctors in rural areas – the Government has to do something drastic in terms of emoluments or benefits to keep the docs working in rural areas satisfied. Currently, it is lacking and needs a radical rethink.

      Thanks for your valuable comment.

      Reply
  • A nice detailed post – very informative!

    Reply
  • The most knowledge packed post i have ever read about immune system… I think i will need to read it twice to understand it completely. Thanks for this valuable information.

    Reply
    • I hope it is useful to many more who read thia article. Thanks for your wishes!

      Reply
  • Wow!!! Amazing post Doc. After a very long time I’ve read something that actually imparts knowledge instead of fluff!! All the very best for the contest – hope you win it!

    Reply
  • Great post doc.

    Reply
  • Thank you doctor for these nice ideas! It will surely make India a better place. Tremendously.

    Reply
  • Very Informative ! I Liked It A Lot ! My Best Wishes To You Too ! 🙂

    Reply
  • this is very good.
    all the best!

    Reply
  • Thank you for stopping by sir 🙂
    This is a clear,vivid and an amazing explaination with the video and great illustrations! 🙂
    good luck with the contest!

    Reply
    • Thanks Harshini for your encouraging words. Am glad you liked it. All the best to you too!

      Reply
  • An elaborate and well explained post. Good luck!

    Reply
  • Very informative post.. good luck, sir!

    Reply
    • Thanks Saurav for your good wishes. And, my choicest wishes to you as well!

      Reply

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