15 August, 2010

Guava leaf cure | Oped | :: The Kathmandu Post ::

Guava leaf cure Sushma Joshi AUG 14 - The Kathmandu Post

Last Tuesday, Kalpana Dhimal (28), hung herself after she couldn’t afford health care for her infant daughter. The baby died a day later. “Poverty-stricken mom hangs self,” was the headline of a national daily. According to the same report, the child was running a 105 degree fever. The nursing home demanded Rs.1,700 per day. Like many women, she didn’t ask her husband or family for the money. She chose to die instead.

A family of three—a father, mother and adult daughter—hung themselves on a tree after the family was unable to afford treatment for the daughter’s epilepsy a few months ago. The family was Brahmin, showing that despite popular belief, poverty crosses caste boundaries.

The nation should hang its head in shame when suicide becomes a form of protest, which it has started to be, increasingly, in New Nepal. In April, UML cadre Dikendra Rajbanshi hung himself in the premises of the party headquarters. The cause was poverty—his son couldn’t find a job, and the party couldn’t help him. Increasingly, people seem to be choosing suicide to show their protest and despair—from the 15 Nepali women who committed suicide in Lebanon last year, to the families killing themselves when unable to face spiralling health care costs, suicide seems to be overtaking bandh as the method of protest for the most vulnerable. But these folks will never be called martyrs. Their deaths are a silent form of protest against the worst injustices, but their deaths will be nothing more than teashop conversation as the nation, caught in an unending football game of politics, looks away.

Fifteen Nepali female domestic workers killed themselves in Lebanon last year. Rather than face the sexual harassment, unpaid labour, and torture at the hands of their employers, they killed themselves. I was sitting at a teashop when two men read out the news. “Why were they there?” asked one. “To make money, of course,” said the other one, a Newari farmer, in the mocking tone of one who can afford to deride people who go to make money. The conversation was over. What should have been a national crisis—15 women dead in a foreign country—was brushed over with a single comment.

Twelve Nepali men were slain in Iraq by Islamic radicals and the country went up in flames. Sixteen women kill themselves in Lebanon and the matter dies in one news item. Who cares about women, right? They had gone to the Middle East for almost exactly the same purposes—to feed their families. Protesting religious fanaticism is always so much more popular than protesting violence against women—even though the latter can be more lethal. I am not trying to incite anybody here, merely suggesting that somebody, say labour and immigration officials, should be questioned about these deaths. Has the government set up a bureau that ensures the safety of Nepali female migrant workers in the Gulf? Has the government set up adequate shelters, and repatriation programmes, for those fleeing sexual violence?

Escalating health costs is shown, in survey after survey, to be the single biggest costs of Nepali families, alongside education. People migrate for decades to the Gulf and many other countries, and the majority of their live savings may go to treat a family member in a nursing home. So the question remains—what model of health care are we moving towards?

Allopathic medicine, with its hospitals and nursing homes, could also be titled “Apathetic Medicine.” Its concern for patients is abysmal. The fragmented nature of the nursing home—X-ray, ultrasound, blood test—suck money right out of the pocket before the patient even sees the doctor. And yet, this is the only model we can relentlessly promote, all the way from the Health Ministry to donors ostensibly promoting “health care”.

There were times when a five-year-old running a fever in a Dhimal household would be given a traditional herb, and the fever would go away. All communities in Nepal, including Brahmins, have some form or other of traditional medicines. According to H. H. Risley’s The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, through, the Dhimal of the Nepal Terai were rapidly losing their “tribal identity by absorption into the large heterogeneous Rajbansi caste” as early as the 1800s. They were also losing their nature worship as they integrated towards Hinduism. Overlaid over this was the modern world—and with this loss of indigenous identity and knowledge came the singular knowledge of poverty. As people lose their indigenous identity, and with it their healing knowledge, and they come to understand as modern people that allopathic medicine is the only “real medicine”, this leaves them vulnerable to the most curable diseases. To the point where a young mother whose daughter is running a fever can only think of one solution—suicide. Indigenous systems of healing gets lost in black oblivion. Or should I say it kills itself in its slow search for modernity.

I have had conversations with learned people who show incredulity at my belief in traditional healing systems. Surely, they say, I must be joking. But these learned people don’t know certain personal histories. For instance, my family, the Joshis of Mahaboudha, know an herbal medication for jaundice that cures a patient in a week’s time—allopathic medication takes months. Just in case you think I’m peddling my family medication, let me share with you the ingredients and recipe remains secret, and I have no access to it. And the reason is this -by keeping it secret, the medication was never used for commercial profit but only for localised healing.

The “doctor” system has been deified at the expense of the age-old Ayurvedic, homeopathic, Tibetan, and other medicinal systems. A friend of mine told me recently his mother was receiving dialysis for her kidneys. She is in her early sixties. The reason? His mother had had an epileptic fit. They had taken her to the hospital, where the doctor had offered her medication, but with a catch. The medication, he had warned, could destroy her kidneys. Desperate for a cure, they had agreed. Then her kidneys, which had been perfectly healthy, started to deteriorate. It seemed inconceivable to me that a non-life threatening disease, like epilepsy, should be prescribed a medication that could potentially destroy the kidneys, and therefore life. I don’t know the Hippocratic Oath (I’m not a medical doctor, just a writer who peddles herbal remedies), but it seems to me any healer, however learned, should never give a medicine that destroys life to lessen the symptoms of a lesser disease.

I asked my mother if she knew any traditional medication for epilepsy. “Oh yes,” she said. “Remember this old aunt of yours who walks by? She used to be epileptic for 12 years. She was always covered in her own shit. And then she went to this ayurvedic centre. It was run for free, near Pashupati. She took three dosages and now she’s been free of disease for decades.” I am now reading a book which tells me guava leaf, which is available in most parts of Nepal, can treat epilepsy. I wonder, in my writerly imagination, if the family that hung themselves for lack of money to treat epilepsy had done so from a guava tree.

Why, I wonder, do we not promote our own indigenous medical systems? A similar question must have passed through the mind of a wonderful woman, Yeshe Lama. Yeshe, a programme officer at World Widelife Fund, was one of the few people in donor agencies interested in traditional healing. She compiled a directory of medicinal herbs and promoted the Amchi system of healing in the Himalayas. Unfortunately, Yes he was one of the people who died in the helicopter crash in Kanchujunga. Who will continue her work so that people in small communities don’t have to kill themselves from easily cured diseases? Will our policymakers see the wisdom in moving away from the extraordinary costs of hospitals and nursing homes towards a more local, holistic model of healing? When will we see the cure is right here in front of us?

 sansarmagazine@gmail.com Posted on: 2010-08-15 08:21

Note: A bit of good news. Two years after writing my article, I found this 2012 scientific study done on the effects of guava leaf on epilepsy. And they conclude that guava leaf does significantly reduce convulsions. It always makes me happy when my "random" eccentricities ("Guava leaf for epilepsy? What is Sushma Joshi thinking?") gets scientifically validated:

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