Researchers at the Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar (SKIMS) began looking into the health of Jammu and Kashmir’s tribal people in 2016. They started with the widely held belief in J&K that these communities lead happy, healthy lives free from sickness. The image stems from the fact that the tribal people travel constantly, from mountains to jungles, taking their cattle from Jammu to Kashmir in the summer and back again in the winter. They also seem to be free of diabetes, cholesterol, and other illnesses since they are constantly seen climbing mountains and are slender and slim. The results, however, varied. On top of that, they deal with lifestyle illnesses. Of them, 80% had elevated cholesterol.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) launched the Tribal Project, a research that looked at healthcare inequalities among tribal communities in 10 states. It is now carried out in J&K in collaboration with the SKIMS and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). As the study nears release, several misconceptions about the contented existence of the indigenous people have been debunked.
According to the report, tribal people have limited access to healthcare services since they live in isolated, high-altitude places where it is difficult for them to go to health and wellness centers. Many tribe members stop taking medicine in areas with access to health facilities and medical personnel because they claim they cannot pay the recommended dosages. Additionally, some people choose conventional religious healers who reject scientific medicine.
The Scheduled Tribe makes up around 14 lakhs of J&K’s 1.25 crore total population, according to the 2011 Census. The main tribes, the Gujjars and Bakerwals, are centered in the districts of Poonch, Rajouri, Dooda, Reasi, Ganderbal, Anantnag, and Shopian.
According to Dr. Mohd Ashraf Ganie, Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at SKIMS, both men and women engage in activities like hookah, which exposes a significant section of the population to smoke. Cooking with firewood increases indoor air pollution, which increases the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to Dr. Ashraf, these tribes often have subpar dwelling conditions, where inadequate ventilation poses health hazards.
“Among them, smoking rates are startlingly high. Additionally, they are exposed to both active and passive smoking, which may cause a variety of chest conditions, the most common of which is COPD “Dr. Ashraf, the study’s primary author, has spent years researching Jammu and Kashmir’s tribal community.
The survey also discovered that indigenous people lack access to purified water and generally choose to defecate outside, leading to very poor sanitation. Evaluating this tribal group’s non-communicable illness prevalence was the main goal of the study effort. Infectious infections are the most frequent health problem among the indigenous community, but the survey also found other conditions including diabetes. Even though the incidence of diabetes is just 2% among Europeans, a significant portion of tribal people—despite their slim and lean build—have pre-diabetes.
A significant proportion of them also have elevated cholesterol, with almost 80% having dyslipidemia. This may have something to do with their diet—mostly dairy—as well as genetics. They often have high blood pressure, which is made worse by their inconsistent drug schedule and absence of treatment.
Of the tribal population studied in five Valley districts, 44.3% had high blood pressure, and 7% required immediate hospitalization as a result of this condition. They seem to have low amounts of Vitamin D, which is unexpected given their busy lifestyle and sun exposure. They often have thyroid issues, and many of them drink salt tea yet are deficient in iodine. It suggests that the salt they eat has inadequate iodine.