It’s imperative to promote health education on scientific basis by dispelling myths and superstitions

Traditional belief system and myths still hold ground and have not fully been replaced by a scientific way of thinking in the minds of many people around the world

Representative Photo (Getty images)
Representative Photo (Getty images)

Dr Arun Mitra

Good health is essential not only for the progress of an individual but for the society as whole. Since times immemorial, mankind has looked into various methods and developed different techniques to impart effective healthcare. Primitive society attributed the causation and treatment of diseases to supernatural powers. This was because human society lacked knowledge of causes of various events around. With the passage of time, different theories and hypothesis were propounded to promote wellbeing.

These developments took place almost during the same time period in different parts of the world. It was considered that disorders in the body occurred due to natural causes. Treatment modalities were developed based on the natural products in the form of herbs, shrubs and sometimes animal material.

Ayurveda system developed in India, Unani in Egypt and Babylon, Sidha in Tamil Nadu, Acupuncture in China and Acupressure in Japan and so on. Modern scientific medicine developed out of continuous research for centuries. Hippocrates from Greece is considered to be its father.

Modern medicine has broken several beliefs and myths in medical care through evidence. However, belief system and myths still hold ground and have not fully been replaced by a scientific way of thinking in the minds of many people.

The belief in faith healers is still very powerful and many a times become the cause of delay in treatment. For instance, almost all patients of umps invariably go to faith healers and delay the allaying of troublesome symptoms. The faith healers press upon the swelling on the face, recites some mantras and put mud on the swelling. Similarly, many patients of Bell’s palsy (a type of one-sided paralysis of the face) also consult faith healers.

Interestingly, one such faith healer focuses bright sun light on the patient’s neck with a convex lens. This causes a burn on the skin which heals in a few weeks and by that time the paralysis of the face also heals. Patients of Bell’s palsy and mumps most of the time recover on their own with some supportive measures and counselling to prevent complications and allaying fear and stress from the patient’s mind as these, like many other diseases, are self-limiting disorders.

Many diseases are linked to religious connotations. For example, patients of Chicken Pox (‘Chhoti Mata’) would spend long hours in praying to the mother god. It has been observed that sometimes even literate persons don’t a doctor on some specific days of the week not considered auspicious by them.

There are innumerable such instances in different parts of our country. When some such myths are propagated forcefully in the society, these tend to become part of the social thinking which sans logic. During the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, we have witnessed how the use of ‘Gau Mutra’ (cow urine) and ‘Gobar (cow dung) was propagated. Some religious rituals too were promoted as a cure for the disease.

A BJP MP, Pragya Thakur, emphatically stated that her cancer was cured by cow urine. Baba Ramdev went to the extent of criticize modern medical care and promoted his own concoction called Coronil with no evidence about its effectiveness.

Propaganda is so effective that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the people to bang ‘Thalis’ and play ‘Shankhs’, millions of people of the country followed his directive not only once but twice with the hope that this will dispel the Corona virus.

This type of mass hysteria has been studied in the past. In 1995, people throughout the country believed that statues can drink milk. The Ganesha statue drinking milk ‘miracle’ was a phenomenon which occurred on 21 September 1995, when statues of the Hindu deity Ganesha were thought to be drinking milk offerings.

Pople in England in 18th century would kill women who had been denounced as witches by some vested interests and were said to be cause of evils in the society.

The incident of all members of a family dying by suicide at the behest of some preacher in Burari area of Delhi few years back shook the whole country.

Similar mass hysteria was generated by the Nazis in Germany against Jews and dissenters. It was used to kill and justify their killing without any remorse.

This is a very complex situation in which various sections of the society have to come forward to spread health education on scientific basis. The message needs to be percolated down to the village level. Medical organizations and doctors can play a vital role in this.

We have to educate the society to respect all human beings irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender. We must learn to respect each species; and that all humans have same blood.

(IPA Service)

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