"Our Future is Global"
20.02.2013 - 22.03.2013 82 °F
For our program we have broken up into different Case Study Groups. I had the honor of being placed into the Indigenous Medicine group. We spent two days conducting interviews and visiting different sites to collect information on the history of treatment and practices, funding and referral networks, government support, interactions with biomedicine, research validation, as well as Indigenous Medicine's adaptation and transformations. Our work was fascinating and it was refreshing to be in a smaller group.
Indigenous Medicine is important here in India. It's called AYUSH.
Aryuveda Yoga Unani Siddha Homeopathy
For the purpose of our case study we focused on SIddha, because it is native to the South of India and Tamil Nadu.
Our first day we visited a Siddha practitioner connected to Vadapalaani Murugan Temple. Dr. Anuradha BSMS, taught us about the different herbs, pills, and poultices she used for different ailments. Most of her patients came with headaches, wheezing, stomach complaints, menstrual problems, chronic illnesses (hypertension and diabetes), arthritis, dermatological issues, and in their later ages mental health and geriatric issues. She even described to us a few special patients she treats for cancer and HIV/AIDS. For the most party she advised us that Siddha had its strengths in Chronic Illness while Allopathy (biomedicine) had its own strengths in complicated emergency situations. The government pays the Hindu temple and the hindu temple pays her to provide free consultation and medicines free of cost. Patients come from the streets and she asks them of their ailments, conducts a Vadi-Pulse Test to measure their vada (blood), pitta (phlegm), and kaffa (bile), and prescribes them medication. She also has a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, but only for show - for patients who needed assurance that her practice was legitimate. More and more her practice is becoming legitimized under research and commodified with ready made pills by IMPCOPS and other pharmaceuticals.
One of the most striking images she left us with was the idea of the slow/fast moving car. She describes taking medicine like driving.
Allopathic medicine is made of synthesized chemicals that work quickly but also have strong potential side-effects. It can be dangerous (i.e. chemo)
Siddha medicine is made of natural herbs that work slowly and have no potential side-effects. It may not be as satisfying, but its healthier in the long-term.
On the second day we visited the Siddha University and Clinics. We spoke with Dr. Sathya Rajaswaran about traditional medicine. His brothers are both biomedical practitioners, but he decided to work in Siddha because he is proud of his South Indian heritage. He works in a government institution, yet they are always asking for funds. It is 10rps to the initial registration and then patients receive free consultation and medication. He receives around 50 patients a day, listening to their ailments and prescribing medication. While he discussed the patenting of medications and the digitization of old scrolls he insisted that Siddha didn't need validation - its a practice thats been going on for hundreds of years with proven results. According to him, they only do it so that they can have the approval of the FDA and expand globally.
He also had a metaphor involving automobiles. He described Siddha and Allopathy driving down two parallel roads. Allopathy zigs and zags collecting medical information from different traditions, practices, and research studies. Siddha continues straight down a steady road rooted in tradition. By the time allopathy has swerved into Siddha's lane, it is already miles ahead.
We also had the opportunity to observe a famous bone-setter (varma) from Kerela preforming his work on dislocated arms, compressed disks, and even a paralyzed patient. It was uncomfortable not to see the patients being asked for consent and having the bone-setter explain to us what he was doing in front of the patient. It didn't help when they were grunting and screaming. Despite these uncomfortable moments, it was an invaluable experience.
At the end we made an interactive presentation of all the knowledge we learned. Overall our Case Study was probably my favorite academic experience here in South India. It was refreshing to break into smaller groups and refreshing to study indigenous medicine as resilient and adapting to expand its influence on a larger scale. Indigenous medicine is gradually growing and challenging the assumptions made by allopathy in the pursuit of a more holistic approach to health!