Myths around diseases
There is a dire need to promote scientific approach to health and healthcare services
Way back in antiquity when the knowledge of causation of illness and remedy was primitive, the cause of diseases was attributed to some divine powers. The same powers were looked towards for salvage. With the passage of time, the human race tried to find the causes responsible for poor health in surroundings and thus they searched for remedy also in nature. This led to the development of various systems of medicine in different parts of the world. Modern system of medicine advanced further in a scientific manner through intensive research to find pathogenesis of disease and thus developed medical or surgical treatment in a holistic manner. This broke several prevailing myths and beliefs. But despite all these developments and modern technological innovations, there are lots of myths about healthcare in our society. Some of these are being perpetuated in an organised manner.
Mumps is a viral infection of salivary glands caused by Paramyxovirus where the patient develops painful and tender swelling of cheeks or below the mandible. It is a self-limiting disorder and gets cured with time. It has no specific treatment and is thus managed symptomatically through supportive measures. But even the highly educated families invariably visit a 'Ghumar', the earthen pot maker in the hope that with his blessings or his tricks the disease will be gone soon. Similar is true for Chicken Pox or 'Chhoti Mata' where they worship the goddess and hope that the divine power of the goddess will heal the disease.
An interesting case is of Bells Palsy, where the patient develops paralysis of one side of the face. Most of these patients recover with some supportive measures and medical treatment. But here too people visit the faith healers. There are some 'Babas' who have cleverly understood this and are wickedly utilising it for their vested interests. Some of them keep a convex lens and ask the person with Bells Palsy to stand in the sun. Then they focus sun light with convex lens on the neck of the patient. This causes burn on the skin. The burn takes almost three weeks to heal and during this period the Bells Palsy also recovers. These Babas are believed to hold power for divine blessings!
Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, is another disease which, in some parts of the country is thought to be caused by "consuming milk with Jalebi". Likewise, a person having epileptic fit is made to smell the shoe in the belief that she/he would get rid of the attack of epilepsy.
Such myths delay the treatment and many a times sickness increases beyond any treatment which could have been possible otherwise if it had been done on time. Worst is when some such healers claim to treat malignant diseases. Poor patients fall prey to them in the belief that they would cure them. But by the time they realise their mistake and see no recovery in sight in the hands of these faith healers, the disease has progressed to incurable stage. These are criminal acts which cannot be condoned.
Propaganda of 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 revealed any benefit of cow urine for human health. But still this continues whether in form of drinking or putting a drop in ears or washing the wounds with this.
Creating departments of Astrology in the hospitals and advisory to the patients to visit these astrologers is a matter of grave concern. It is understandable if this is done in some private hospitals with 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 of to be pondered over. They hold workshops to preach the couples to recite shlokas at the time of mating so as to have customised babies of their choice - the uttam santati. With this, they claim that a couple can have children of choice and that this would lead to development of a pure and powerful generation.
While in the modern era such thoughts must be rejected, but ironically some ministers have been seen to attend the conference of 'Tantriks' and felicitate them. Such acts lead to misconceptions in the minds of people and spread obscurantism.
It is for the medical bodies, rationalist societies and right thinking people with scientific outlook to question these. People like Mahesh Chand Sharma, now a retired Rajasthan High Court judge, saying that female peacock gives birth not because of mating but because it licks the tears which flow out of eyes of peacock has to be countered outrightly. That to talk that ancient India had surgical skills advanced enough to transplant elephant head on human body is only befooling people by exploiting their beliefs.
Modernity cannot be achieved through medieval ideas. The health of our people, particularly of the women and children cannot be left to be exploited by people with irrational ideas. We are well aware how womenfolk are witch-hunted on the pretext of madness while this could have been treated through psychiatric treatment and counseling.
There has to be a concerted effort to develop a healthy India through scientific outlook. Otherwise, health of vast majority of our poor population will continue to be exploited through false beliefs and myths in healthcare.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is Senior Vice President, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views expressed are strictly personal)