This can be a good thing. Television helps shape how people feel and can raise awareness about health problems.
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Take your average bookshop. The health section is generally extensive, dozens of books promising to help you diagnose your problems and alleviate them with the purchase of some product. But is it not ironic that the average person who can afford to buy books these days and who tries out the cures has never been healthier in world history? Drug companies do the same. According to Marcia Angell, author of The Truth About Drug Companies, about 75% of new medications are 'me too' drugs which are no better than drugs already on the market to treat the identical condition. So three quarters of medications on the market are not necessary, but they have to sell. This explains why drug companies spend two-and-a-half times more on marketing and administration than on research. To increase the market is simple: tell people they are increasingly suffering from a range of conditions they did not even know they had and turn normal experience into illness. No doubt, certain people suffer from clinical depression and may need medication but, increasingly, unhappiness is being painted as a disease needing pills. Is illness creating the need for certain drugs or are drugs helping shape illnesses? I am not advocating a world without medication.
We all know the importance of antiretroviral drugs in treating people living with HIV/Aids. There is also a critical place for genuine health education through programmes such as Soul City in South Africa. But what concerns me is that average people who are generally well are being sucked into a commercialised medical universe. The flagship of medicalisation is the media, which continually report on the slightest health scares and tempt us into self-diagnosis through relentless entertainment with medical themes such as ER and reality hospital-based TV shows. Let us not turn everyone in society into 'patients' with health obsessions. The more we do this, the more we lose perspective. While the middle class snap up the latest health-related books and drug companies roll out their new ad campaigns, people in genuine need of medication are dying. It seems that Mark Twain was right when he said: "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint".