The deadly trio: Jaundice, ignorance, and alcohol addiction

Why is jaundice still a public health issue in India? Perhaps the underlying issues are even more deeply rooted than we typically perceive them to be.

Last Updated on May 24, 2023 by Shabnam Sengupta

In present times, jaundice is predominantly viewed as a common ailment. It is characterised by the yellowing of the body tissues, which occurs as a result of an excessive accumulation of bilirubin. Whenever the flow of the bilirubin from the blood to liver is obstructed or it cannot leave the body, it leads to jaundice. Bilirubin is a yellowish pigment that is formed by the breakdown of dead red blood cells in the liver. When somebody has jaundice, their body itches besides the skin turning yellow. According to the findings of a study by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), jaundice is recognised as a significant public health issue in India. The absence of awareness and problems like alcohol addiction can transform any illness including jaundice into a potentially life-threatening condition. In the case of jaundice, it is evident that the disease has emerged as a menace, impacting individuals across various age groups and social classes.

Lack of awareness

The rapid spread of jaundice poses a significant threat in the hilly regions of India, primarily due to lack of public awareness. In rural communities, individuals often rely on local exorcists rather than seeking medical assistance from hospitals when diagnosed with jaundice. Surprisingly, even educated individuals residing in cities are observed engaging in similar practices. Arjun Kumar, a resident of Guna village in Almora, Uttarakhand, shared his experience of being diagnosed with jaundice on three to four different occasions. Every time, due to the lack of medical facilities in the area, he went to an exorcist seeking treatment.

Apart from this, other challenges that villagers face are the transportation expenses to health centres and the financial burden associated with the treatment, making it difficult for them to access proper healthcare.

When alcohol addiction becomes a curse

Jaundice is reported to pose an even greater threat in the hilly regions due to the prevalence of alcohol addiction among the local population. The excessive consumption of alcohol leads to liver damage, exacerbating the condition. The situation is alarming, as around 60 percent of the population in these areas is prone to addiction. Tragically, numerous fatalities have occurred in the state due to individuals persisting in alcohol consumption even when they were suffering from jaundice.

In Asota village, Almora, Janki Devi, a local resident, shared the story of her husband’s tragic demise. Despite suffering from jaundice, he continued to consume alcohol, disregarding the warnings from the doctors. His alcohol addiction, combined with his jaundice, ultimately led to his untimely death in 2017. Now burdened with the responsibility of her entire family, Janki Devi emphasises that addiction is prevalent within the village community. Drunken individuals can be seen everywhere from around 5 pm onwards. Given this situation, it becomes crucial to organise awareness camps and implement stringent measures in rural areas to bring about a positive change. 

Taking special care of food habits

Dr Anil Agrawal, who practices in Susheela Tiwari Hospital, Haldwani, said, “If jaundice is detected at an early stage, then the treatment becomes easier. However, if no treatment is sought even after five to six months, complications can arise in the bile duct, potentially leading to death. It is crucial to consume foods rich in Vitamin D, along with fruits like papaya, mango, and vegetables such as mustard greens. Additionally, it is advised to take the Hepatitis vaccine and steer clear of substance addiction.”

In a study conducted in 2022, it was discovered that individuals who consume more than three cups of coffee per day tend to have a healthy liver. Interestingly, further investigation by researchers revealed that the positive effect is not solely attributed to the presence of caffeine in the coffee. Similarly, another study conducted in the same year demonstrated the potential benefits of consuming green tea for liver health. Additionally, incorporating fibrous fruits, vegetables, and adequate fluid intake can contribute to maintaining a healthy liver.

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