By Frances Bulathsinghala/Sunday Observer
Colombo, November 15: With around 25,000 traditional Sri Lankan medicine practitioners and thousands of other Ayurveda doctors, why have we not incorporated a policy to use the expertise of each of these physicians/doctors in the country, towards our battle against Covid-19? Yes, there is no medicine for Covid-19 in the Western medical system just as there is no cure for Dengue.
The only closest alternative is the immunity boosters and diverse methods for respiratory ailment curative possibilities that are within our traditional medical system which can be used when the virus is at the early stages of incubation to eliminate it from the system. Ayurvedic medical specialists have explained methods, such as vapor inhalation/steaming that could be used, complementary to the science based analysis that the Covid-19 virus can be expunged from the body by killing it with certain heat levels.
People-centric health system
The Samastha Lanka Deshiya Waidya Sangamaya is finalising the recommendations to the Government for giving equal recognition for Ayurveda/traditional medical practitioners, as given to Western doctors through the Constitution. They would be lobbying for changing the disparity in recognition as initiated during the Colonial rule when the British introduced the Medical Act and placed the Western medical system in a superior position.
Why did we not, soon after independence from the British, in 1948, consider a nationalistic people centric health system and policy for the safeguarding, conserving and promoting Sinhala Wedakama/Sri Lankan Ayurveda and where needed establishing an integrated health system that offers diverse medical systems, including Allopathy, keeping in mind the holistic wellbeing of each person.
Today, even after seven decades of independence, we are nervous, jittery or afraid to learn from our ancestors and charter our own path and create our own future. We have learnt the art of rhetoric without practice. Hence, we may wax eloquent as needed about our past, but have failed where it matters; failed to give life to the richness of the past, especially in resurrecting, stabilising and promoting, not just as a peripheral appendage, but as the crux and backbone of the nation, our intangible cultural heritage. We have been happy to use the word ‘alternative’ to the medical systems that were practised in the country for thousands of years and never considered the word ‘parallel’ that would have given dignity to our past and our present.
If we had made every child and youth learn about the basic herbs of the country and its usages, and grow up to know as a matter of general knowledge, as our forefathers did, about the medicinal quality of our traditional food, about what herbs are used for Ath beheth, which every mother knew, and the herbs used in the Deshiya Chikitsa Kalka, Thaila and Guli and their scientific premise as proven over the centuries, and the basic Weda Wattoru for immunity boosting and respiratory health, we will not be quaking in fear today and locking up our economy.
Sri Lankan medical professionals, Allopathic or Ayurveda are the descendants of those who have been born and lived and died in the country; their grandparents have been raised in the tradition where giving medical assistance to another to save/prolong life is seen as the greatest gift and to take money for such a deed is considered beneath the dignity of humaneness. This is the reason that to date, there are indigenous physicians, especially from Weda paramparawas who will not receive money from the patient. It is the practice for the patient to keep whatever he can afford, on a Betel leaf discreetly.
This is because the medical culture of the country as well as India where Ayurveda was born, began with the rishis, the sages and the men for whom holiness, purifying and perfecting the mind, went hand in hand with healing. With the advent of Buddhism, this was further perfected and to heal another selflessly was one of the greatest acts of good Karma one could do to merit liberation. It is this philosophy that Sri Lankans must resurrect. The philosophy of the traditional medicine system is in stark contrast to the greed and exploitation of the Big Pharma industry that many Western doctors, scientists and others have exposed through hundreds of books.
Sri Lankans should take the time to study in depth their medical heritage to be able to defend in theory and practice the fact that Deshiya Chikitsa and Ayurveda have stood the test of time and the vicissitudes of mass health challenges over centuries. Like all things in life, diseases are not static, especially given that we have increasingly encroached into the animal world and the world of bio weaponry.
Where the uninformed conclusions go, regarding the alleged so called ‘unscientificness’ of Ayurveda/Deshiya Chikitsa, it should be reminded that 19th century scientists in the medical sphere researching into the ancient Ayurvedic medical prescriptions for diseases had replicated curative methods on patients and stunned at the impeccable results.
Sri Lankan author, Dr. Seela Fernando in her book ‘Herbal Food and Medicines in Sri Lanka’ quotes Dr. George Clarke, M.D., M.A. of Philadelphia as stating as follows after reading the Charaka Samhita, the ancient text on the Ayurvedic medical tradition; “As I go through a part of Charaka, I come to the conclusion that if present day physicians drop all modern drugs and chemicals from their Pharmacopoeia and adopt the methods of Charaka in treating diseases, there will be less work for undertakers and fewer invalids in the world.” Dr. Clarke was referring to the overall medical system of India and Sri Lanka.
Dr. Fernando stated in her book that Ayurvedic science in Sri Lanka shone at its best during the reigns of King Buddhadasa and Parakrama Bahu the Great. She stated: “During these days, every Sinhalese of noble birth was expected to know Ayurveda; besides Royalty, they included Bhikkhus and poets. These physicians attained a high degree of efficiency in medicine and surgery, yet they did not work for pecuniary gain. Even the Sinhalese kings, among whom were famous surgeons and physicians, practised medicine as an act of service to gain merit.”
This is what Robert Knox, the British East India company sailor who was taken captive in 1659 had to say about Sri Lanka’s indigenous medicinal system/culture at the time: “Here are professed Physicians but all in general have some skill that way and are Physicians to themselves. The woods are the Apothecaries shops, where with herbs, leaves and rind of trees they make all their physics and their plasters with which they do notable cures.”
A country’s medical culture is entwined, to the veins of the natural world of a nation; a world that needs to be protected from how modern science has been used for evils, such as slow poisoning and disease causing pesticide emerged from ‘Green Revolution’. It is this so called revolution which should be called black rather than green which has been for decades making our hundreds of endemic medicinal rice varieties that grow on different soils and other endemic plant varieties disappear as farmers were lured by the alleged ‘quicker’ and ‘easier’ money making potential of chemically induced agriculture and imported seed varieties which lead us all down the long path of wasting Lanka’s revenue and wasting the potential of human lives.
The memory of how our forests were the mother in whose bosom our medicines and food were nurtured have long been deleted from our brains. This is why we have not listened to Sri Lankan forestry and ecological professionals, such as Dr. Ranil Senanayake who has authored a book on exotic medicinal plants of Sri Lanka and who in the 1970s saw the dangers of Lanka taking the advice of the Western ‘experts’ who recommended the growing of Pine trees for reforestation. He instead recommended the growing of ‘village centric forests.’
These forests as per the vision of Senanayake (and put effectively into practice by him in his independent capacity over five decades) would enable cultivating all medicinal and other vegetation/plant species of the land, including our medicinal and nutritional power house Kos (Jak) trees and making the village the guardian of such ‘life sustaining’ forests. These forests would replace the need to cut forests and clear land for agriculture.
Food and medicinal goldmines
It would also while protecting the soil from the harm of monoculture, promote the health of the nation because we would not need chemicals or artificial fertiliser or imported seeds. This would have been a chance to give back to Sri Lanka the scenario that Robert Knox described and make our forests food and medicinal goldmines and help Sri Lankan Traditional medicine heal authentically not only Sri Lanka but the world through avenues, such as tourism.
Today, we have resorted to having to import turmeric, one of our staple herbs that every family grew in their backyards. Given that the medicinal culture of a country is determined by what grows on its soil, we cannot be blind to narrow-minded scenarios, especially when we have a raging pandemic.
What we have to remind ourselves is that if we continue to harness the incredible potential of our traditional medical practitioners, something that Western countries do not have, and turn around the immunity deficiency of people with our herbs and indigenous food, that we will be able prevent needless deaths.
If we harness our traditional medical expertise in a systematic matter, boldly, resolutely and with trust in what is ours, we will be able to help not only ourselves but a world which has made health a commodity.
A success story of ours in line with our medical heritage will be a success story for humanity because with it will come the legacy that we are known for; the legacy of valuing human life and treatment to save a human life is not about greedy money making sans ethics, but a mission and a Buddhistic act of compassion.