Primary Prevention

Not Fall Prevention, Poster @ LBNL 2010


The word prevent has its roots in Latin; from præ which means “before,” and venire, which means “to come.”  The word originally has the sense of anticipating something in order to hinder its arrival. In general, we can presume that we want to prevent undesirable events from occurring.  Prevention can be classified depending on the stage at which one anticipates or obstructs the occurrence of an event, primary prevention, secondary prevention, tertiary prevention, and quaternary prevention.

Primary Prevention

Washing Up Water, Kolkata 2008

When we hinder a problem from ever getting started or taking root, we call that primary prevention.  We avoid exposure to a situation or an agent that would cause a problem.  An example would be having access to clean water prevents exposure to agents that are spread through contaminated water.  The infectious agents can cause a variety of diseases such as polio, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis E, cryptosporidium, giardia lambia, rotavirus, helicobacter, mycobacteria, hookworm, schistosomiasis, and others.  Many illnesses can also be caused by chemical contamination of water. This concept is very important because as you can see by this example, having clean water would prevent a number of diseases all at once.  Primary prevention is generally an extremely efficient way of avoiding diseases, trauma, unhappiness, and delaying death.

Bicycling in Assam, 2007

Getting good quality and sufficient sleep and food are other examples of primary prevention practices that can ward off many illnesses.  These practices don’t necessarily avoid exposure to disease causing agents, but they do make one more resilient and resistant to getting ill.  At the risk of employing an overused analogy, rest and nutrition are like keeping one’s bicycle tires inflated, the chain well-oiled, and the brakes in working order.  These things make it easier to maneuver through a busy street and make the uphill and downhill rides much easier.
Living in a peaceful place prevents stress and violence related problems.  Not ever smoking is a perfect example of primary prevention of all tobacco related diseases and deaths.

Washing Up, Kolkata 2008

Hand washing is a fantastic example of primary prevention. This Saturday, 15 October 2011, marks the third annual celebration of Global Handwashing Day. The celebrations will focus on encouraging children all over the world to develop the habit of washing their hands with soap and water after toileting and before and after eating.  Ingraining this habit in children could potentially cut childhood deaths from diarrhea in half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by a quarter. This habit alone has the potential to save more lives than any vaccine or medical intervention.  Apparently some world records have been set already on Global Handwashing Day.  In 2009, almost 53,000 children washed their hands at the same time in different locations of Bangladesh.  In 2010 the celebration in Kenya had 19,352 people washing their hands at the same time in the same place.  That must have been one heck of a sink!! Well done!  Let’s see what happens this year.


Author Spotlight

Jayshree Chander

Doctor Chander