Kirpal Bajwa has been involved in the taxi industry in the San Jose area for more than 15 years, a job that has given him first–hand knowledge of the sedentary lifestyle of many South Asian colleagues who work out of Mineta San Jose International Airport.
Between sitting in cars all day and eating fast food on the go, taxi drivers are particularly susceptible to health problems. “When drivers are waiting for a fare, many just sit in their cabs, play cards or watch TV in the waiting room,” Kirpal said. At age 73, Kirpal still works 18–hour days but is mindful about his health. “When I don’t have a customer, I take walks in the parking lot. I know that just sitting around will be bad for me, so I do some light exercise every day,” Kirpal said. “I also drink a lot of water and avoid eating heavy foods.”
In May 2012, Kirpal was among 29 taxi drivers at San Jose Airport who received free health screenings offered through a collaboration between the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and a student–led Screen Team from Stanford University School of Medicine. Working alongside Latha Palaniappan, M.D., PAMF internal medicine physician and associate investigator at the PAMF Research Institute, the volunteers recorded health histories and measured height, weight, body fat and blood pressure. “These health screenings are a great example of how PAMF provides culturally relevant services and programs for our diverse patient population and community,” said Dr. Palaniappan, who was principal investigator of a 2010 Research Institute study that found South Asians to be at particularly high risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
The taxi driver screening project is one part of PAMF’s PRANA (PRevention & AwareNess for South Asians) wellness program, named for the Sanskrit word prana, which signifies life force or vital energy. The PRANA program was developed by the PAMF South Asian Wellness Task Force, a committee of physicians, dietitians and community members led by Dr. Palaniappan and PAMF internal medicine physician Ronesh Sinha, M.D.
In 2010, PAMF began offering South Asian Consult Visits, one–hour visits with PAMF physicians who are experienced in South Asian health issues. Since then, South Asians from every walk of life have taken advantage of this service. For Ravi Rajan, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, that opportunity came in 2011 when he scheduled a consult visit with Dr. Sinha. “I’ve had Type 2 diabetes for many years but it was never well controlled,” explained Ravi, who has been a PAMF patient since 1995. “After meeting with Dr. Sinha, I learned how to monitor my intake of sugar and carbohydrates. He did more than just tell me how to consume fewer calories. He educated me. He made it practical for me to control my diabetes while losing weight. Within three months my blood work was normal.”