STRIVING TO IMPROVE THE HEALTH OF THE SOUTH ASIAN DIASPORA
BY GARY THANDI
Dr. Arun Garg has been a leader in the medical field for well over four decades. Born and raised in Agra, India, in January 1946, Dr. Garg excelled in his studies from an early age and soon demonstrated an aptitude for science and medicine. He was born into a family that valued education; both his father and grandfather were educationists. Dr. Garg’s father passed away when the Doctor was just 5-years, and he was raised by his mother, who continue to emphasize the value of education. “I was very fortunate to be brought up in an academic environment,” he advises.
Dr. Garg finished Grade 12 when he was just 14 years old. He wasn’t old enough to enter medical school, as in India the minimum entry age for medical school was 17, so he first went on to complete an M.Sc. in Biochemistry from Agra University. Dr. Garg immigrated to Canada in 1965 and earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Saskatchewan. He had options to go anywhere in the world, but he was driven by a desire to go where few had gone before – as he thrived in such situations. “There were few Indians there at the time,” he recalls, “so you have to adapt. You have to be adaptable.” He remembers the community being very welcoming and friendly, and he enjoyed the experience. However, he still had the desire to become a Doctor, and therefore moved to British Columbia to continue his educational journey.
Dr. Garg enrolled in UBC’s medical school to obtain an MD designation. He graduated with a medical degree from UBC in 1977. In addition to working in lab medicine, Dr. Garg has actively participated in supporting other doctors as well patients through his involvement with the BC Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association and other formal and informal bodies. He is especially proud of the work he did in developing stronger working relationships between government and doctors, a framework of cooperation that continues to this day.
In 2003, Dr. Garg was involved in a committee that focused on developing stronger relationships between British Columbia, India, and the Indian diaspora. “The diaspora has a strong connection to its roots, and the bond remains even after several generations,” he explains. From that point on, Dr. Garg began to develop a stronger interest in the health of the South Asian diaspora. “The chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, kidney diseases, are becoming much more prominent, both there and here,” he notes. “Historically, this is a relatively new phenomenon.”
When asked his thoughts on the reason for this increased prominence, Dr. Garg advises that “a lot of these chronic diseases are related to how you live. These are complex issues, but that is a common thread – lifestyle. And a big part of that is nutrition and diet.”
Dr. Garg wanted to focus on practical ways to address this major health issue. Specifically, he wanted to look at what can be done locally. He feels while lifestyle modification, behavior modification, and diet changes are essential, such efforts towards positive health change must be made in ways that meet the linguistic and cultural needs of communities.
“When the disease has struck, most people will turn to their physician, and therefore we need to work with doctors and other healthcare professionals so that they can best engage with their patients.” The South Asian Health Institute (SAHI) was formed at Fraser health (www.fraserhealth.ca/sahi) as a way to bring health care professional together to strengthen the way they connect with members of the South Asian community. Furthermore, Dr. Garg’s efforts have led to increasing collaboration among health care professionals from India and Canada. In addition to regular dialogue, these experts have come together on a few occasions via participation within conferences. The next conference is slated for 2018. (www.thecins.org)
While the health issues are complex, Dr. Garg advises that moderate changes in lifestyle can have significant benefits. He encourages people to consider their sugar intake. “If everyone can reduce added sugar, and cut back on syrupy sweets, you will see a definite improvement in your health.”
For Dr. Garg’s many efforts, DRISHTI Magazine honored him with a 2015 Award for Health Achievement. He has received many honors and awards, two which he especially proud of are named after his mentors, Dr Cam Coady (www.drcamcoadyfoundation.ca) and Dr Don Rix (www.doctors of bc.ca), both laboratory physicians and influenced his professional life journey. This is another message for success in life journey, learn from others and have mentors to guide you , he feels he has been very fortunate to have supportive family and some great colleagues and mentors .