Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Jiyo Parsi: An Inside Perspective

The following is an interview with Dr. Zinobia Madan, one of the founding members of the Jiyo Parsi Programme, on what the project really means to the community. This was originally published in the Jam-e-Jamshed on Sunday December 14, 2014.

“Marriage may with propriety be called the chief concern of human life. When we reflect that from it arises the nearest and most endearing relationships which go to form the comfort and happiness of existence in this world — husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and many others – the importance of the institution, in all its bearings on the welfare of society, will at once be recognized” – William Tegg, The Knot Tied.

The Zoroastrian religion takes a similar view of marriage. Marriage is considered as an institution that finds favour with the Almighty. Ahura Mazda says: “O Spitama Zarathushtra, indeed I thus recommend here unto thee, a man with a wife above an unmarried man), a man with a family above one without any family, a man with children above one who is without children.” (Vendidad, 4.47)

“That place is happy over which a holy man builds a house, with fire, cattle, wife, children and good followers.” (Vend. 3.2)

Marriage as an institution is strongly revered by our religion. Likewise, having children is blessed by the Almighty and is considered to bring happiness to the family.

photo-on-21-11-14-at-7-25-pm-2IVF holds promise

The landscape of infertility changed dramatically with the announcement of the birth of the world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978,  conceived in the laboratory through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Today, IVF has become a most commonplace treatment for infertility around the globe.

The incidence of infertility worldwide is on the rise, due to our modern lifestyle, with an estimated more than 70 million couples afflicted. Over the past decade, 3.4 million children have been born worldwide after Assisted Reproductive Treatment.

Jiyo Parsi is a scientific endeavor for providing this landmark treatment for our Parsi couples diagnosed with infertility.

Jiyo Parsi Milestones

Exactly five years back at the World Zoroastrian Congress, Dubai, Dr. Shernaz Cama, Dr. Anahita Pandole and I met, brainstormed and arrived at a consensus on the Jiyo Parsi programme. Prior to this, Dr. Anahita Pandole had already been working for the BPP-funded infertility project on similar lines with encouraging results.

Prof. Armaity Desai was also keenly involved with us in planning this programme. We decided to focus on infertility to address the serious problem of dwindling numbers of our Parsi population. For inclusion of Parsi couples in this programme, it was decided to follow the legal definition of a Parsi.

The Jiyo Parsi programme received approval and sanction from the Ministry of Minority Affairs in September 2013 and, thereafter, was launched. Ever since, the Programme has been on track and is picking up momentum.

Recently, there was the launch of the advertising campaign with some mixed reactions, but such reactions and views can be well anticipated for a serious scientific programme of this nature.

The ad campaign strategized at creating awareness utilizing humour. It’s understandable that diverse opinions and views had to follow. Nevertheless, the ad campaign is one of themany means for awareness creation.

So it would be a good idea not to dwell on this. Rather, we should understand that this is a Programme with inherent merit and Parsi couples must derive maximum benefit and make it successful. 

Moving ahead purposefully

With the funds magnanimously granted by the Government of India, let us encourage the target of 200 Parsi couples to avail of the medical and financial benefits of the scheme by enrolling themselves and having children.

Jiyo Parsi is our first step in reversing the declining population trend by utilizing advocacy and awareness to target groups along with the best medical know-how in managing infertility.

Advocacy can be one of the tools by counselling couples on the importance of having children, caring for them and raising them. There are also plans for couples to receive advice on stress management, modifications of lifestyle, nutrition and exercises for those who have problems conceiving due to medical ailments like PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) as well as for ladies who get pregnant.

In the Jiyo Parsi Programme, Parsi couples will receive specialized care by IVF experts like Dr. Anahita Pandole at premium institutions like Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre and other leading centres in India with advanced technologies.

Targeting reproductive health

According to the formal definition by the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Similarly, reproductive health also represents a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of reproductive disease or infirmity.

Some lifestyle factors play a major role in causing reproductive health issues.

These are enlisted below:

1) Smoking, alcohol addiction and substance abuse. Toxins from these substances interfere with hormone production in our bodies and adversely affect reproductive health. Therefore, smoking, alcohol and substance abuse are best avoided. 2) Eating disorders and weight issues. While a section of society is addicted to junk food that has increased calories and no balanced nutrition, leading to obesity, on the other hand there is the other section of society resorting to dieting to look super thin leading to anorexia and malnutrition. All these factors lead to hormonal imbalance in our body and further reproductive health problems. Eating healthy and maintaining an ideal weight is the solution. 3) Excessive stress disorder: Stress is a very common curse of today’s modern lifestyle and one of the leading factors that causes major problems in a human body, affecting regular body functions and causing hormonal imbalance. Stress levels need to be controlled by mind relaxation and yoga. 4) Disturbed sleep patterns: The mantra “work hard and party harder” has disturbed our body clocks and left us with very little time for adequate sleep. Insufficient sleep disturbs our body clock and causes hormonal imbalances, thus affecting the reproductive health of men and women. It is the correction of this disturbed body clock, which sets the pace for good health.

Need for counseling

It is our realization that many Parsi couples need counseling on good reproductive health and how intricately it is linked to overall physical health, on the importance of having a happy married life and developing healthy interpersonal relations with each other.

While counseling can sort out many of the misconceptions in several couples, a substantial number of couples will need medical treatment and reproductive care. Reproductive health of the mother determines the health of the newborn. Reproductive health is a crucial part of general health and a central feature of human development. It is a reflection of health during childhood and during adolescence and adulthood, which affects the health of the next generation.

Our lifestyle habits such as improper diet, smoking, excess alcohol intake, lack of exercise, effect of drug usage, stressful lifestyle and lack of sleep are all contributors to poor reproductive health.

Failure to deal with reproductive health problems sets the scene for later health and developmental problems.

By addressing the fertility aspects of Parsi couples, sex counseling, solving interpersonal relations, one to one counseling, group discussions, advise on prenatal and antenal exercises, dietary advice and overall lifestyle advice, the Jiyo Parsi Programme will tackle reproductive health in a multipronged way.

As long as scientific parameters, ethics and the necessity of precision record keeping of patients – all fundamental points with which the Programme was conceptualised are not jeopardised, there are no major causes of concern.

Let us not lose hope but believe that our community numbers will increase and the future generations will find brighter ways to increase our fold.

Dr. Zinobia Madan is a Healthcare Entrepreneur and founder member of Jiyo Parsi. She is the recipient of two prestigious awards – Rajiv Gandhi Excellence Award for Innovations in Healthcare and Jewel of India Award for Landmark Contributions in Healthcare.