close-icon

The cost of Western medicine

Sushma Joshi

Sushma Joshi

The cost of Western medicine

Do we need billions of dosages of expensive vaccines frozen at minus 70 degrees and which need freezers that don’t exist in most parts of the world?

We’re wasting a lot of money on the Western medical system, money that Nepal cannot afford.

Let’s think about the enormous costs that is going into Covid-testing. While testing is promoted as the most sensible way to go about defeating this pandemic, there are hidden costs. A pharmacist in my neighborhood told me large numbers of people had tested positive, but nobody had symptoms, including an elderly man on dialysis. “Everything is normal,” she said with skepticism. She seemed to hint the coronavirus panic was overblown. She added coronavirus was affecting mental health: a young teenager who had gone to test herself received a positive result, then a negative one at another hospital, then a positive one again at a hospital which refused to release her report, citing regulations, leading her to depression and mental health issues.

I can see people on Twitter anxiously writing about how often they should test. Should they test each week? The problem with the testing paradigm is that you can test negative and walk out, and on the way out of the testing center catch the virus. I’m uncertain how long it takes to incubate, but you could be infectious 24 hours after a negative result.

In such a scenario, does it make sense to emphasize testing? As an Ayurveda advocate, I feel we could better utilize those funds on boosting people’s immunity via time tested supplements like chyawanprash. Instead of massive free Covid tests, why doesn’t the Nepal government spend the same funds to hand out free bottles of vaidyakhana chyawanprash to frontline workers, regardless of age, class or ethnic background? I would love to see how that may turn the tide of the pandemic.

I can also see people on social media asking for medical help, and receiving pat answers citing commonly prescribed antibiotics. This is a viral pandemic, not a bacterial one. This seems to be lost on the people who reach for antibiotics like they reach for Hajmola candy.

Besides warning people about the harm of self prescribed antibiotics, the government needs to prepare and distribute a list of time-tested herbal remedies which are low cost and easy to procure locally. Some of these could be as easy as a one rupee tamarind candy, a brand of which I take each time I feel like I’m falling sick. Tamarind (imli) has high Vitamin C content and its seeds are known to prevent pneumonia.

In most people’s minds, however, a one rupee candy won’t do: healing is not healing until you spend 20 lakhs! As someone trained in anthropology, I suspect complex family power dynamics of whose life is more valuable may also be playing into this “fight to get hospitalized” scenario.

I am cognizant of the 1,500-plus deaths, plus the grief and distress people are feeling from coronavirus in Nepal. The emotive nature of the moment can bring feelings of outrage. Especially for the scientifically inclined who see hospitals, big pharma and ventilators as the one and only way to heal people, the dismissal of modern medicine can appear regressive and cruel. But even doctors have been quoted in articles as saying the majority of coronavirus patients will recover without any medical intervention.

Americans are reporting a dramatic range of post-hospitalization symptoms, now known as “long Covid.” We have no idea if those symptoms, including dementia and memory loss, are caused by drugs. People also have kidney and liver damage. There has been no comparative research of those who chose Ayurveda over those who went to the hospitals. If such a study were done, we could see if those who stayed out of hospitals have those symptoms. That most reliable newsgathering agency of the world, the BBC, has reported as fact that dementia and memory loss are caused by coronavirus. There is, however, no research to prove this is the case.

I recently heard of a family friend who is seriously ill with the coronavirus. What I know about him, besides the fact that he is a simple—humble man who’s lived an austere and disciplined life—is that he has several family members who are engaged in the medical profession. I have no doubt he received the best western medical care, including oxygen. To my mind, this has become a death knell. Someone who may have been cured by traditional remedies may never recover from this virus due to the debilitating effects of modern medication.

Health discourse is structured to silence those who seek to question the hegemonic narrative of Western scientific superiority. There is no room for those who question the efficacy of this system. Do we need billions of dosages of expensive vaccines frozen at minus 80 degrees and which need freezers that don’t exist in most parts of the world? Who are the scientists creating these nonsensical, expensive products after vacuuming up billions of dollars that should have gone to sensible, low cost healing?

Doctors have saved my life after the earthquake. I am deeply grateful to them for patching me back together. But that doesn’t stop me from speaking the truth about this pandemic: we must save our hospital beds for accidents, surgeries and childbirths, not overburden the hospital system, and treat coronavirus patients at home with the herbal, Ayurvedic and Amchi medicines we have been given by our ancient cultures and traditions.

These are the author’s personal views