Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, Foundation Day Lecture

16 October, 2020

Introduction of the speaker by Dr. Rajan Sankar

It's my proud privilege and I'm really delighted and honoured that Professor K Srinath would deliver the first foundation day lecture. Dr Srinath Reddy is the President of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). Earlier he headed the Department of Cardiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Professor Reddy is the first Indian to be elected as a foreign associate member of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences) of United States of America. He served as the first Bernard Lown Visiting Professor of Cardiovascular Health at Harvard School of Public Health for five years.

He is presently an adjunct Professor at Harvard, Emory and Sydney Universities. He has served on many government panels. Most importantly, he chaired the high level expert group on Universal Health coverage for Planning Commission of India. He is also a member of the leadership council of UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and chairs the thematic group on health in SDSN.

Professor Reddy is a member of the global panel on agriculture and food system for nutrition. He has published more than 500 scientific papers. He has received several honours, most notably the President of India conferred on him the Padma Bhushan in 2005.

Lecture transcript

Greetings to all the dignitaries who have graced this event and also the various participants from different institutions who are adding strength to this foundation day event through their time and talent. Well, the raison d’etre of the foundation has been very clearly explained and its relevance for our future has also been very well outlined. Therefore, whatever I say, I would be in a sense be embellishing what has already been stated in a very clear manner by all the preceding speakers. Nevertheless, I shall attempt my task with some degree of humility and greatly humbled by the honour that's been conferred on me.

It is the malnourishment of many forms which actually erodes our defence and makes us easy prey for viruses and bacteria.

Nutrition during the pandemic

People may wonder why during this Covid phase, we are really focusing our attention on nutrition where it appears to be a battle for survival against a virus. But this is a very appropriate time to re-emphasize the importance of nutrition for human health. It is very clear that food and nutrition in a balanced manner are the main contributors to innate immunity which is the first and foremost defence against any microbial invader. It is the malnourishment of many forms which actually erodes our defence and makes us easy prey for viruses and bacteria.

This has been very clearly outlined in this particular pandemic too, when we recognize that the most vulnerable are those who have nutritional disorders of any kind.

But we also recognize that we harbour within us hundreds of trillions of microbes who also constitute our micro-biome. They not only help us both in building up our immunity but also in fostering our nutrition.

Some of the food we consume and the nature of the food we consume is also good for the bacteria who reside in our gut and we recognize that their nutritional needs are also conditioned in a way by the food we consume. If we have a disordered micro-biome we are likely to have a disordered immunity and we can fall prey to a variety of diseases.

Therefore, we are not eating just for ourselves but for our co-habiting microbes which are beneficial for us and which help us to fight the not-so-beneficial or harmful microbes and help ward off a variety of autoimmune diseases. So in that context too, it has been noted by some Australian researchers, that perhaps one of the contributors for the lower level of mortality and the less severity of the manifestation of the Covid19 virus in the South Asian population could have something to do (particularly among the poor not so much among the middle class and the rich) with the high fibre content of the food which may actually foster a healthier micro-biome. This therefore makes them less susceptible to and cope with COVID-19’s ravages.

So, we are seeing even in the context of Covid19 how clearly important nutrition is and how food is the foundation for our battle against any challenges visited upon us by external world of microbes. But then we ought to look at nutrition across the life course not merely in a segmented manner but right from preconception to the very end of life.

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