Archives for category: health and disease

Nate Sprague:

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Now that I have had some time to relax and recover from the jetlag, I find myself already missing India.  I am still full of excitement from the feelings that I got from the trip, and recounting the story to so many people has helped me solidify my feelings about it more and more.  I still can’t believe that it’s over, the whole two and a half weeks seem to have just flew by.  But all in all, here are my reactions now that I’m back.  India to me is a place that is absolutely loaded with potential – potential to grow, potential to develop, create, and expand, but also huge potential to destroy.  During our time in Kerala we studied many different aspects of the development that has occurred there.  There have been tremendous strides made in social movements (equal pay for similar jobs as in Tata, free health-care for all, free education, etc.) which have made it a truly remarkable place.  However, I also saw many of the tremendous side effects that development, as well as globalization, had on the place at large.  I mentioned the huge levels of pollution in my last blog, and there also seems to be a unanimous turning of the other cheek to these issues.  During one of our group discussions, we recognized that India, being so young in her development, really has the chance to do things right, and to set a global example of how development should be brought about.  I hope that people like the fishermen win their struggle to retain their traditional, sustainable ways of life, and that if development does continue, the four elements of successful development are followed – sustainability, equitability, participation, and transparency.  I have been truly touched by a people so giving, willing to share so much even when so little is had.  Also so intelligent, the students we came in contact with were tremendously dedicated to their studies.  Overall, Kerala was an experience that has changed me for forever.

Stephanie Bahramian: My name is Stephanie Bahramian. I am an M.S. student in geography where my main interests lie in planning and sustainability. I am also learning GIS as I like to map data, and I will likely do my masters project in GIS and planning. I am also very much concerned with international issues, probably more so than domestic. As the developing world seeks to attain the standards of living of those of the West, they risk developing in such a way that can compromise and deplete their own resources. Therefore, sustainable development is my primary area of study. My reason for coming on this trip to India was quite simply that I love India. I had also failed to get to this part of Kerala on my previous two trips to the state, and I found the itinerary very well designed.

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I have noticed a shift in recent years of those living in several western countries seeking to know more about more traditional medicines such as Chinese, Ayurveda, herbal, homeopathy etc.  At the same time I was suspecting a reverse move from those in the developing world embracing more heartily allopathy than their own traditional medicines.

This past summer, I had several medicine students from China and Taiwan, and they indeed confirmed that their studies were almost devoid of Chinese medicine and that their scant knowledge of it depended on their access while growing up, or if their families were regular users of acupuncture, Chinese medicinal treatments and the like.

This trip further convinced me of this shift. Every modern person or professional I  met on our travels in India admitted to preferring using allopathy to seeking tradtional Ayurvedic treatments. The reason everytime, was quite simply that people did not want to wait to feel better, even though they were fully aware that Ayurvedic treatments would give them the most long-term benefits! The practitioners, too, said this was the main reason if not sole as Ayurvedic treatments do not have side effects.

I have been practicing Ayurveda for many years, but access to it in the US is poor, so I decided to deepen my knowledge of it in the two weeks we were travelling. It helped that I was actually sick due mainly to the heavy travelling to India shortly after a tiring semester. I visited several Ayurvedic doctors of varying experience, did three types of treatments and am using numerous herbal treatments from teas to hygiene products to treatments for more chronic ailments.  There are definitely varying degrees of expertise among the practitioners and the types of locales to get treatments and consultations. One young woman had a

Roots and herbs at an Ayurveda shop

Roots and herbs at an Ayurveda shop

little cubby hole attached to just as small of a place where her family sold hundreds of Ayurvedic treatments; she was the doctor of the family. Another slightly larger pharmacy also had a cubby hole where one could get free consultations just like the last place, but this was a chain shop where the young woman there had not long graduated an Ayurvedic college and who considered this a good first job before eventually one day having her own private practice, something that would require her having built a reputation in order to operate well.

The next place I went to was to a private Ayurvedic doctor that I found through one of our contacts during our lectures. She had been practicing many years and received me in her home, gave me a cup of tea and consulted with me for about 45 minutes. She refused to take any money, which was very uncomfortable for me, but I realized that it would have been just as uncomfortable for her had I insisted in handing her some. I also had no clue as to how much to pay anyway. I was pleased that all practitioners had agreed with what was first  “prescribed” and so trusted the additional treatments that were suggested (there was no prescription per se).

As for the distribution of medicines, some came from the Ayurvedic pharmacies and some from raw medicinal shops, which were basically tiny cramped warehouses of dried herbs and fruits and barks and heaven knows what else. These places were less abundant and not so easy to find. Everything cost pennies to buy so, clearly accessible to the masses, something that is contrary to here in the US. Anything non-conventional in medicine in this country is either costly and/or not covered by insurances.  Free consultations are also almost unheard of. I loved the way everything was wrapped up in newspaper and natural fiber string (coir?!).

This brings me to my final point, and that is about the Ayurvedic school that I visited. Even guidebooks are now saying that one can no longer visit them. As I

The Kerala Ayurveda College

The Kerala Ayurveda College

was with an Indian student, I was able to have a quick look around and ask some questions. Ayurveda has been an open sharing of knowledge forever, probably since the beginning some 5000 years ago, but in recent times, this knowledge had been used and profited from by Western countries like our own, and the recent trend in patenting components of nature is threatening the very industry. As a result, Indians are now getting suspicious of foreigners and quite rightly so if we have been thieving and claiming ownership of something that was never needed to be owned before.  The school I visited was in the center of town and was government-run with an attached pharmacy for all to get their medicines. I felt a lot of hostility there and decided to go elsewhere for my meds. It was not clear if being sick made the people grouchy or if my being the only foreigner evoked the animosity, so I decided to focus on other things.

The rooftop housed many potted plants with plaques with names in Sanskrit, the language of Ayurveda, Malayalam, the language of Kerala, and, of course, the botanical name in Latin.  I was not allowed to take a picture so I refrained…We stopped a young man who told us that he was in his first year and in his class of 70 students, there were only 12 men. He said this was typical, which jibed with information I had been getting from numerous sources, that this was predominantly a woman’s profession; it is one that does not generate a large income typically. It can be completed in 5 years, including a 6-month practicum. I asked another gentleman about foreigners studying at the school. He said that everyone must learn Sanskrit and to pass an entrance exam. There are two places reserved for outsiders that one must interview for but one cannot pay directly for. The foreign government must pay for the studies. I suspected there was no bursars office on campus and could safely assume that the US government would NOT pay for me to go to school there.  I removed it from my bucket list. Otherwise one can attend a private Ayurvedic school. Had there been more time, I would have researched these just to complete my preliminary understanding of the field of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is not medicine per se; it is a way of life and encompasses elements such as correct breathing, posture, movements and attitude. One does not need to wait to get sick to take Ayurvedic treatments and ideally should be taking concoctions to help balance the body before it gets sick. We in the West are just beginning to recognize this. What a pity that Indians are turning away from a piece of their very identity that others of us are discovering is a wisdom to be valued and cherised.

Jeremy Truex:

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Today was a pretty laid back, yet interesting day for our trip. Our morning started downstairs in the dining room of our homestay, with a nice home cooked breakfast of juice, toast, and eggs which were all delicious. After breakfast we dropped off our laundry to the owners and got our belongings ready for our trip of the day. We headed out at about 930 this morning on the bus, and after not being able to take the ferry to the location we were trying to go, so we had to drive around the bay to where our boat for our trip was. We arrived at the harbor about 20 minutes later, grabbed some water, and loaded on to the covered boat for a tour down the river, as well as a lecture on how the development of the area has affected the environment.

Once on the boat, our guide explained to us that all development was banned due a wetland protection act to prevent the destruction by the creation of buildings. Unfortunately, private contractors have bought land and are allowed to build close to the water due to a loophole in the law, letting them build these structures if they are within a certain distance of the main road. Also, we noted that there were many fishing nets that were apparently set up by the Chinese a few centuries back, and the process is still continued today.

Along our long journey down the river, we saw many docks that were at the end of roads are behind people’s homes. Attached to these docks were small boats, some motorized and some standard paddle boats that were used for traveling and fishing. Also, with the boats were these circular saucers like things, which were apparently boats. We saw these things in the water with people actually fishing in them and they proved to work very well.

After about 2 hours, we reached the destination where an environmental activist was supposed to meet us. Due to our boat running late he had left, but he returned shortly after our arrival. He spoke to us about the industrial plants that were right down the river from where we were docked, stating that over the past 30 years they have been dumping in and polluting the water in the river, affecting the health of everyone in the area. He said that over 10 million fish have been killed off and the amount of fish remaining is very scarce, as well as that the water is nowhere near acceptable to drink.

The people in the area are pushing for the factories to leave or change the way they run their production, as well as restitution for damages and health problems caused by the establishment and operation of the factories. However, we were told that the factories do supply fresh drinking water for the locals so that they can safely have something to drink.

The activist said that the 240 industries are worried about the protestors, not just because of the environmental and health issues they are talking about, but also that they are afraid that they are agents or spies for DOW chemical. Because of this, and the fact that many of the factories are government owned, and bring in many of their employees from outside of Kerala, they are trying to label the group as eco-terrorists to get them out of the way.

Jeremy Truex: My name is Jeremy Truex, and I am a senior at Central Connecticut State University, and graduating in May 2013 with a double major in History and Anthropology. I have embarked on this journey throughout Kerala, India with many of my friends and fellow students, with hopes to better understand how different societies work in the world, especially when compared to other nations. Because I am also a Historian and not only an Anthropologist, I am trying to use the historical record of what has happened in India to try and construct a reasoning as to how and why some of the various cultural practices have transformed and evolved.

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This was our first day that we worked with our focus groups, mine being the public health group. Neethu, a student from the University of Kerala accompanied us to a site that was being used as a waste dumping facility, but we were not allowed in by the security because they thought that we were journalists that could be reporting on what the government was doing there.

Because we could not go to in to the factory, we went to the Protestant church down the road to speak to the Reverend there until Buyhn, the leader of the political activist group Janakeeye Samithi, which opposed the site. We asked the Reverend what kind of complaints he gets from people about the waste factory. He told us that the Government told the people that they were going to create a medical plantation of sorts on the location, so the people started selling their land cheap to the government for that purpose, but the government never used the land for medical research.

The Reverend and Buyhn said that there was originally 12 acres allotted for the facility, and that now there are 45 acres, some of which was acquired from the people and some from private owners. While the Communist government was in power, Povtech was given a 30-year contract by the government to operate on the land on July 24th, 2000, but they left after only 8 years. Their waste dumping caused more bugs and flies in the area, which disrupted the church proceedings. The church had to stop their prayer to deal with the bugs, because they would try to eat the bread and wine for Communion, and the water was almost completely black even 5 kilometers away from the site.

The Waste Plant affected the community greatly. Because of the conditions created by the Waste Plant, such as dirty water and a constant pungent stench which deterred many of the women from receiving marriage proposals from men outside of the area, as well as making it so no guests or tourists wanted to visit the area. There was also an Increase in lung and eye disease, especially for children. The Waste Plant caused crop irrigation problems a well was forcing the rubber collection to decline because the Tappers could not come in during the morning hours due to the pungent smell. We were also told that the river was drying up because it was being destroyed by the pollutants.

Buyhn said that the government has labeled them as terrorists, especially after they held a hunger strike that started on January 9th of 2011, but said that the political parties did support them at some times, yet remained separate entities. Buyhn said that the activists are not organized well, and are leery of the fact that an American company may be coming to take control of running operations there.

From the church we went to a public health clinic that was a little ways down the road. We met with a doctor that had worked there for about 7 years. He talked to us about the various diseases in the region affecting the people. He said that medical issues have been resurfacing due to malnutrition and a lack of vaccinations that the children and others were receiving to prevent them from getting sick. The one point he did continually make is that Malaria was virtually non-existent in the region, which is a great thing that they did not have to deal with, unlike much of the rest of the country. He did say though when we asked him about the Waste Plant down the road, that he was concerned that this could cause more illnesses to happen at a rapid rate, as well as allow virtually eradicated illnesses such as Malaria to reappear.