Thursday , 12 December 2019
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The rise in non-communicable diseases in India is what propelled Australia-based Goan epidemiologist and public health specialist, Sarojini Monteiro to take up a cross-country cycling expedition. She shared with NT BUZZ details of the challenge just before she set off on her journey on October 18

A cycling expedition with a twist

Janice Rodrigues | NT Buzz         

The International Diabetes Federation has identified India as the country with the highest number of diabetics in South Asia, (approx 65.1 million). The World Health Organisation on the other hand has identified the lack of physical activity as one of the major risk factors that lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. The lack of medical awareness is an additional factor. “I spent the first 23 years of my life living in India, experiencing the vibrant culture, strength and humanity of its people, but also the extreme human suffering from preventable diseases caused by a lack of public health services amidst the confluence of westernisation and globalisation,” says epidemiologist and public health specialist, Sarojini Monteiro. Her zeal to work towards the betterment of public health was her impetus to get her PhD in Public Health with the focus on women’s health promotion and disease prevention.

Moving to Australia for her doctorate, she was able to build her skills, knowledge and experience in international public health and became a resource person for international low-to-middle income communities. Armed with a decade of experience in Public Health, she has worked and trained in India, Australia, USA, Brazil, Colombia and the Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands. Returning to India she proposes to use her expertise and spread awareness of a healthier lifestyle through her second passion – cycling.  “My zeal to prevent non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in India inspired me to return to India to cycle through the villages and rural towns of India,” says Sarojini.

Sarojini’s mission is to cycle across India from Kashmir to Kerala covering about 4,000 kilometres. She began her expedition on October 18, from Leh in Kashmir. The forward journey will see her traversing through Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. She aims to culminate the trip on December 23 at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.

Undertaking this challenge as a self-funded project for charity, Sarojini gives credit to her family’s support. With the aim of raising awareness on the prevention of diabetes and addressing the issue of lack of exercise, Sarojini plans to give press conferences and local school and community talks to educate women and communities on diabetes prevention and the benefits of physical activity, including cycling.

She states that scientific evidence has demonstrated that cycling has many health benefits including the prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. “Cycling is a form of physical activity that can be incorporated into our daily living by using it as a form of transport. A small proportion of women in India cycle and these are predominantly young girls. There is a lack of data on the barriers and facilitators to promote cycling among adult women in India,” she says.

She says that apart from its health benefits she took up this challenge because of her love for cycling. “I am not a competitive cyclist but I have travelled across Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and New Zealand using the bicycle intermittently. I also use the bicycle daily for transport when working.”

The project, she states, aims to understand the issues associated with cycling among women, to advocate for women to ride the bicycle in India to prevent non-communicable diseases and to identify local solutions to increase cycling among women in India. “To achieve my goal I will cycle an average of 100 kilometres a day but if there is uneven terrain, I will take it slower. I will also be taking rest for a day or two every four days of cycling,” says Sarojini.

Since she is cycling to raise awareness, she has also collaborated with an NGO – Society for Education, Village Action and Improvement (SEVAI). “I request a donation of at least Rs 5 for each day that I bicycle. I will bicycle for an average of 45 days – so a minimum donation of Rs 225 will go a long way. Additional donations are always welcome to help with this cause,” she states.

 

(To find out more about the ‘Cycling India for Indian Women’ project please visit Facebook Page – Dare to Dream: Cycling India to encourage Indian women to cycle for health. To make tax deductable donations to SEVAI go to http://www.sevaingo.in/ or email trysevai@gmail.com)

 

The proceeds will be used towards achieving the below goals by 2017:

l To conduct research on the barriers and facilitators of women riding bicycles in India.

l To develop sustainable women’s cycling projects in India.

l To increase awareness and education of the health benefits of physical activity (cycling) and the role of exercise in the prevention of diabetes and non-communicable diseases.

l To advocate for women to cycle as a form of transport in villages of India.

l To advocate for cycling infrastructure in India.

l To increase the number of women who ride bicycles in India.

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