The Virsa Project POD
Healthcare Collaboration with PlantPureCommunities USA
As part of the Plant Pure Pods Community, The VIRSĀ Project held its 1st series of Health and Wellness Initiatives in Patiala district in the state of Punjab, India. This camp involved (1) a talk with rural women handicraft artisans regarding the importance of a LFPBWF diet (Low Fat, Plant Based, Whole Foods approach), eating seasonal fruits and vegetables and especially focused on helping them understand why dairy and dairy products are not healthy (2) our primary activity was to get baseline understanding of the Artisans' current health status. In all, approximately 45 Rural Phulkari Artisans participated in our health care initiatives this summer.
We partnered with a team of Optometrists & Phlebotomists in order to run Vision Checks, measure Blood Lipid profiles, Cholesterol levels, Full Anemia Panel and TSH (to diagnose any Thyroid issues). We also collected initial understanding on artisans who said they needed specific support on account of Carpel-Tunnel Syndrome (wrist and hand pain), Spondylitis in the neck and back (owing to decades of needlework especially in ergonomically suboptimal work conditions) and Migraine/Migraine-like headaches.
Since we spent these days preparing for and running the camp, this was also a great opportunity for participant observation. It was observed that meal portion sizes are very large and that the Artisan-families, which are primarily dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry, consume large quantities of dairy, dairy-based products, sugar, salt and vegetable/dairy-based oils and ghee. Their preferred mode of cooking is frying and sautéing in large quantities of vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter). We did not observe any consumption of meat (beef, pork, lamb), poultry (chicken, turkey), fish and eggs among the women artisans; though it's common for their menfolk to occasionally consume chicken & eggs (high fat preparations like butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, egg curry etc).
Initial testing showed a dismal health status for most of the Artisans. Nearly 1 in 3 showed low Hemoglobin Levels, signs of Anemia and/or other related Iron deficiency disorders. More than 80% of the sample tested High on Cholesterol levels. Some exhibited signs of Hypothyroidism, with their TSH levels being very high. At least 10 participants showed symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus Type II.
These observations were woven into the Nutrition Awareness part of the a Follow-Up Health Camps. We partnered with two Licensed Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioners from Patiala city. Knowledge was imparted to the artisans on this day regarding the need for Portion Control and especially, the role that Dairy/Dairy-based high Fat products play in Obesity, Insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes/Adult onset Diabetes, Osteoarthritis, Estrogen dominance/Hormonal disturbances, Fertility problems, PCOS/Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, Sluggish Thyroid and several other Auto-Immune disorders. The Ayurvedic Practitioners also prescribed medicines to the needy Artisans.
A special session on Plant-based Nutrition Literacy was held by Dr. Sushma Jaswal (The Virsā Project, co group leader) and Dr. Gurupdesh Kaur, an Independent Advisor & Handicrafts Expert from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana city, Punjab, India. These messages were reinforced by the visiting Optometrists who shared with the Artisans that a high-fat diet based on animal-sources may also worsen Diabetic Retinopathy.
The importance of Personal Hygiene was also emphasised upon and how a simple act of washing hands with an antibacterial soap can help prevent infections and common diseases like cold, eye infections and diarrhea. To facilitate this, handwash products were distributed to the Artisans. Also, one of the main focus of this camp was on Women's Reproductive Health and Hygiene. Sanitary Napkins were distributed to the artisans of childbearing age. They were specifically made aware of how to use these products and that it was important to carefully dispose them off. Rural Indian women continue to have poor access to Feminine Hygiene products and often use cheaper home-made alternatives such as cloth or cotton etc. Affordability continues to be a major barrier.
Here is a quote from one of our older Artisans, Mrs Pal Kaur.
She is approximately 60 years old (doesn’t know her accurate age) and during our blood tests, her blood sugar levels were abnormally high and thereafter she has been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.
““…My daughter in law and I attended 3 Virsa Health Camps this summer. We returned home and discussed the blood work & Nutrition information with my husband and son; my husband seems to have taken the Nutrition info to heart and is already staying away from dairy...”
— Pal Kaur, Early 60s - Virsa Artisan Associate
The mission of PlantPure Communities is to build stronger, healthier, and more sustainable communities. This is being accomplished through a wide range of research, policy, and program activities and working with local nonprofits, businesses, governments, hospitals and other health-related organizations, faith-based groups, and other community organizations.
PPC offers programs, resources, tools, and knowledge to empower community leaders, activists, and advocates, in order to help educate people about evidence-based nutrition that shows that optimal health may be achieved through a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet. In recognition of the enormous confusion surrounding nutrition that has resulted in skyrocketing food-borne chronic disease and the challenges that many people face in making long-term changes to their diet, especially in low-income and other underserved neighborhoods, PPC works to:
– Increase access to and understanding of the clear scientific basis that a WFPB diet is optimal for humans;
– Meet people wherever they are on their health journey;
– Encourage all people to eat whole plant-based foods and reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal-based products, including meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, and also reduce or avoid processed food, such as sugar and oil; and
– Institutionalize long-term neighborhood-based support of WFPB nutrition.