Media contribution vital to revive medical heritage | Sunday Observer

Media contribution vital to revive medical heritage

27 December, 2020

The media have missed an opportunity to serve the nation during the pandemic by failing to see the relevance of our ancient medical heritage in the current context. They have not focused as emphatically and continuously as it should, on advising people on the importance of nutrition, especially on traditional nutrition i.e. what they should eat and what they should not; in terms of protecting and empowering the immune system.

When plagued with a highly contagious but rather easily curable disease mimicking the common flu attacking the immune system (to fatal impact if the patient is compromised by other health issues), Sri Lanka, having overused chemical agriculture which causes most of these NCDs, did not see an active media linking this factor with the current health challenge.

This writer uses the term easily curable based on actual narrations by several senior Sri Lankans in the West, who having been exposed to those with Covid-19 and faced with overwhelmed hospitals there giving preference of treatment to patients below the age of 45, resorting to putting to practice a few basic common sense based things they knew of traditional ‘food based cures’ for cold like symptoms.

The ‘cures’ they had tried were those such as onion and garlic salad along with spices, pepper, bee honey and lime and Tulasi leaves/powdered neem leaves in addition to vapour inhalation to cure themselves of symptoms in 48 hours. These are the narrations that do not get into the media.

Immunity boosting

The irony is that we wear masks and consume poisonous chemical agriculture and gluten and other dubious substance infused food daily while waiting for an exorbitant vaccine for Covid-19.

There is much that the electronic media in particular could have done in the past 10 months to educate the public on immunity boosting through traditional food; Sri Lanka’s number one weapon towards good health from the times of kings.

Such education through media in the current scenario does not mean the limiting to few ad-hoc programs a week but a continuous and consistent effort adapting the media paradigm to see that Sri Lankans are enlightened on indigenous fruits, tubers, herbs and plants, which are known to play a double role as medicines and food.

Many of these produce are today being threatened with extinction, but this also is a theme that does not get discussed in the public realm and if it had, the mass extinction of indigenous seed varieties (deshiya beeja) with chemical agriculture, could have been avoided.

Despite Western scientists saying that certain heat levels kill the Covid-19 virus, the media in general has not focused on mass scale awareness programs using knowledge of Deshiya Chikitsa (Sinhala wedakama) and Ayurveda/traditional medical experts, to help Sri Lankan use the traditional medical heritage practically such as herb infused vapour inhalation at a time when it is desperately needed.

Role of media

There is a great need for the media to encourage people to grow their own herbs and educate them on how common herbs which are also used in everyday diet can be near miracle cures for respiratory ailments. We need as a nation to get the country back to when each and every citizen was well versed in knowing which herb or leaf or fruit aided in healing which disease. In the 17th century, Robert Knox seems to have learnt a vast set of medical knowledge from the average Sri Lankan citizen as recorded in his book An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon. As Knox stated, the forests of the country were the pharmacy of the people.

Yet, confronted today with acute deforestation, the media the world over need to look at factors, such as pollution and de-forestation and the increase of recent pandemics and to analyse how countries and locations with more forest cover and trees do not have large numbers of Covid-19 patients. One of the main difficulties that traditional physicians face in producing their medicines is that most of them are scarce. Some which grow in the wilderness cannot be found because there is hardly wilderness today.

Despite Ayurveda and Deshiya Chikitsa (Sinhala Wedakama) being well known for its disease preventive mechanisms especially in respiratory ailments, there was lack of interest by the media to help the Government understand that although the West has only one ‘science’ or one system of ‘medicine’ that this is not the case for Sri Lanka.

If the media had collectively started giving publicity to all the traditional physicians of Sri Lanka and their observations and comments based on their analysis of information coming from the West on the Covid-19 virus, there could have been a major shift in how we would have handled this pandemic.

Spiritual base

We have to rid ourselves of the psychology that the traditional physician (Weda Mahattaya) is ignorant or primitive or are frauds. This is what the colonisers made us believe. Our true ‘independence’ will be the day we shed this psyche from our collective system and begin an education system to rejuvenate the commonsense knowledge of traditional medicinal plants and their cures in every primary schoolchild which will be the foundation to respect our traditional medical legacy and its spiritual base.

We still have time to save enormous cost to Sri Lanka by purchasing foreign medicines if we unite as a nation to know that our medical heritage is not dead and that we can still use it provided we have confidence in it. The media could play a significant role in bringing together medical systems (Allopathy, Deshiya Chikitsa, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani) to promote an integrated medical approach which could be the ideal answer to battling the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a need to study in-depth how China used the integrated model and simple treatments, such as vapour inhalation/steaming to control the spread of the pandemic in the country.

Changing paradigm

There was no effort by the media to question the lack of a cohesive and systematic effort to test traditional medicines on volunteering Covid-19 patients. However, this is changing now with several media personnel becoming a part of a network of professionals from across the country, including Allopathic professors who are coming forward to support initiate a formal system to get traditional physicians to get their medicines tested on volunteering Covid-19 patients.

It is learnt that this effort is gathering islandwide momentum considering the need to respect the rights of those who wants to have traditional medicine as a route to immunity boosting for recovery from Covid-19 which means that they would want to be treated in an Ayurvedic hospital or a hospital and a clinic run by traditional physicians. We will soon be able to write comprehensively on this public endeavour and the goal of these professionals to engage in a discussion with the leaders of the Government.

To ensure that we give the due place to our traditional physicians, we have to first have confidence in what was ours and remains ours. Most of us have forgotten that we had developed complex surgery tools and had set up the first hospital in the world in Mihintale at a time when Western science based big pharma was unheard of.

Glorified image

Yet in this pandemic backdrop, the media were seen to paint a glorified image of the Western world and their science and sweeping assumptions made to the effect that it is only Western scientists who would be qualified for experimenting to find cures. This is the malady that Sri Lanka has to cure itself from. This pandemic is more dangerous than Covid-19. Every media institution should be the theatre of operation to remove this scourge once and for all.

We could begin by giving our traditional physicians the same dignity and recognition to merit the words ‘medical researchers’ and respect that hundreds of traditional physicians throughout Sri Lanka were from February this year grasping details about this pandemic and comparing it to the stages of many respiratory ailments and trying to match the many herbs against the covid-19 symptoms. The media of any nation holds vast potential towards helping any regime to steer the country towards prosperity and to do so, it is clear that a nation cannot forget its core strengths. Sri Lanka’s core strength which we have not capitalised on for over seven decades after independence is its medical heritage.

If we never thought of our medical heritage as something of high value – both holistic, karmic and monetary, it is time now, when we are about to be indebted to a foreign vaccine which we are not questioning at all. While Western nations may only have such a vaccine as their sole option to surviving an insidious pandemic, it is subject to conjecture they would ignore, trample or abuse a treasure such as our medical heritage, if it was part of their birthright.