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'Physical and mental toll to hunger strike'

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

A hunger strike is in effect committing suicide as it negatively affects every vital organ in the human body, says medical specialist Dr Jagdish Yella.

Yella, in a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, pointed to research on nutrition in clinical practice entitled "Medical Management of Hunger Strikers" which was published last month.

Most reported cases of death, said Yella, have happened between 45 and 73 days from the hunger strike—but this depends on the health and lifestyle of the person.

He said there was also the danger that he/she can collapse and die at any period during the fast.

The journal, he said, stated that individuals with a normal weight of some 70-80 kgs can survive two to three months without food and water.

The deterioration of a person's health would depend on their fat deposits.

Yella noted that during a hunger strike the glycogen stored in the liver and muscle is mobilised as a substitute for energy.

He said as the fasting progresses, the body shifts to using glycogen in the cardiac muscle and skeletal muscles.

Prolonged starvation, he said, would eventually lead to severe protein loss and death.

He said the common causes of death among hunger strikers include infection, sepsis, severe dehydration, heart failure, severe neurological dysfunction (problems with the brain), among other things.

Psychologically, Yella said the person can suffer from delusion, hallucinations, contusions and suicidal tendencies.

"Prolonged fasting has deleterious effects on almost every organ of the body including the heart, kidneys, brain, everything," said Yella.

He said such a person must be closely monitored and should be immediately taken to a hospital if there is a ten per cent decline in ideal body weight.

Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan yesterday expressed concern over Kublalsingh's hunger strike saying that by now—a week after his hunger strike began, Kublalsingh, or anyone going without food or water for so long, would start to show serious effects like fainting, collapsing, weakness, dry mouth, and lack of urination.

He was speaking to reporters at the Capital Plaza Hotel on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain following a workshop to develop a national healthy eating policy for children.

"I would say a person would be able to go without food or water for one or two weeks max before the heart gives out," Khan, who is a medical doctor specialising in urological surgery, said.

Referring to Dr Kublalsingh's statement that he wanted to continue his strike for 40 days, Khan questioned whether the activist was making reference to Jesus' fast for 40 days and nights. "One has to wonder what he is trying to do. God was protecting Jesus. I wonder if God is protecting him. Medically that is not possible," Khan said.

Khan was cussed off by Kublalsingh when he (Khan) visited him outside the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday, where Kublalsingh has set up his camp.

Khan, who had visited him at the behest of the Prime Minister, told Kublalsingh the government had provided an ambulance should he need it. Kublalsingh refused the ambulance and told Khan to leave, using some the f-word in the process.

Khan said he had no hard feelings and if he is requested by Kublalsingh's family or the activist himself, he would make himself available.

—with reporting by Carla Bridglal

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