End irrational healthcare
Primitive beliefs and obscure healing practices must give way to scientific medicine for our country to progress towards being healthy
Life is dynamic – evolving continuously under the influence of an array of factors. No wonder, devoid of requisite knowledge about the underlying causes of natural events, man has attributed several inconsistencies of nature to certain unknown, unassigned causative powers. This had given rise to several practices around the world, which were different in manner but similar in nature. Therefore, we find in ancient times, mentions of fire outbreaks in the woods thought to be caused due to the wrath of an angry 'fire god'; rains as a result of the power of a 'rain god' and so on. The approach to health and illness was no different.
Way back in history, when knowledge about ill-health was primitive, the causes of disease were also attributed to some divine powers. The same powers were also looked at for salvaging in times of need. The remedy too laid importance on pleasing these powers in different ways.
With the passage of time, there developed various systems of medicine in different parts of the world. A traditional system of medicine developed in India in the form of Ayurveda, Siddha and Naturopathy. In China, these developed as Acupuncture, Acupressure and Chinese oriental medicine etc. These systems were essentially based on long years of practice. Traditional Medicine (TM) is, according to WHO, the total sum of knowledge, skills and practices based on theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses
The modern system of medicine is a result of intense scientific research on the structure and functioning of body systems, and pathogenesis of disease – based on which, medical and surgical treatment was later developed holistically. This broke several prevailing myths and beliefs. But, despite all these developments and modern technological innovations, there are still many myths about healthcare in our society.
Mumps is a viral infection of the salivary glands caused by the Paramyxovirus, where the patient develops painful and tender swelling in their cheeks or below the mandible. It is a self-limiting disorder and gets cured with time or, at the most, may need supportive treatment. But, even well-educated families invariably visit a 'Ghumar', the earthen pot-maker, in the hope that with his blessings or his tricks the disease will soon be overcome. Similar is true for Chicken Pox or 'Chhoti Mata', where they worship the 'goddess' and hope that her divine powers will heal the disease.
An interesting case is of Bell's Palsy, where a patient develops paralysis on one side of the face. Most of these patients recover with some supportive measures and medical treatment. But, here too, people visit faith healers and are cheated by wicked 'Babas'. Similarly, Syphilis and Epilepsy too are treated by totally irrational means in remote areas of our country.
The growing propaganda of the various uses of cow urine is another hoax. Inquiries from the Guru Angad Dev University of Veterinary Sciences, Ludhiana and from Animal Husbandry Department, Government of India have not yet revealed any benefit of cow urine towards improvement in human health.
Creating departments of Astrology in hospitals and advising patients to visit these astrologers is another matter of grave concern. It is still somewhat understandable if this is done in a private hospital which is backed by a profit motive. But, if the government takes such steps, then it amounts to perpetuating myths and obscurantism.
The 'Garbh Vigyan Sanskar' by Arogya Bharti is another matter to be pondered over. They hold workshops to preach over couples, making them recite shlokas at the time of mating so that they can have customised babies of their choice – the 'uttam santati'. With this, they claim that the couple can have children of their choice, leading to the development of a pure and powerful generation.
Ironically, some ministers in Gujarat have been seen attending a conference of 'Tantriks' and felicitating them. Such acts lead to misconceptions in the minds of people and spread obscurantism.
Such myths delay the treatment and, often, sickness increases beyond any cure, which could have been otherwise contained with timely medical intervention. Worst is when some such healers claim to treat malignancies and poor patients fall hapless preys to them. By the time they realise, as they see no recovery in sight in the hands of these faith healers, the disease progresses to an incurable stage. These are criminal acts, which cannot be condoned. But one finds such advertisements day-in and day-out in print and, now, even on electronic media.
It is the duty of medical bodies, rationalist societies and thoughtful people with a scientific outlook to question these practices. People like Mahesh Chand Sharma, now a retired Rajasthan High Court Judge, saying that a peahen gives birth, not because of mating but because it licks the tears which flow out of the eyes of a peacock, has to be outrightly countered. To say that ancient India had surgical skills to transplant an elephant head on a human body is only befooling people by exploiting their devotional sentiments. The statement of the chief minister of Tripura that the atmosphere is made pollution-free by the breathing of ducks is a matter of shame in the modern era.
Modernity cannot be achieved through medieval ideas. The health of our people, particularly of women and children, cannot be left for exploitation by people with irrational ideas. We are well aware of how womenfolk are witch-hunted on the pretext of madness while their illness could well have been treated through psychiatric means and counselling.
There has to be a concerted effort to develop a healthy India with a scientific outlook. Otherwise, the health of a vast majority of our poor population will continue to be exploited through false beliefs and myths in healthcare.
(The author is Senior Vice President, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views expressed are strictly personal)