21 April, 2024


Traditional Treatment

By Christopher Rezel

Christopher Rezel

It may be wishful thinking to hope Sri Lanka will get away lightly on the deadly onward march of Covid-19.

Many will be hit by the virus, in milder or serious form. 

Hopefully the majority will recover naturally as is due to happen, just as with the common cold or flu. But a percentage are slated to die, a higher percentage than that of the annual flu. 

The country has a high proportion of aged people, a segment most fated to die, particularly those with compromised physical health. 

But worldwide the young have been dying too. 

The above is the reality.

For now though the focus in Sri Lanka is on numbers. 

Like a score in a slow-going cricket match, daily notices give us numbers for those infected, the number “cured”, and the number dead. 

With bated breath the nation awaits the hard-hitting batsmen – for the expected fours and sixes.

A few journalists dare to question these official figures. Are sufficient tests being conducted? Is contact tracing sufficient? Do we have sufficient medical personnel on the job? Are such personnel suitably suited and equipped? What about those who are asymptomatic? What about the available number of ventilators.

We also learn that many suspected cases are evading quarantine.

Some bold journalists have told us about initial shilly-shallying by our leaders. 

Perhaps, and ultimately, to learn the actual numbers laid low by the virus, we may have to wait till year’s end. 

That may reveal itself should the country’s crude death rate be shown to have gone up. (Currently nearly 7 per 1,000.)

However the “traditional treatment” this headline focusses on is in relation to what arises in the country when a subject gets media attention and starts to trend. 

Many eagerly piggyback on the opportunity. 

Covid-19 provides just such a chance.

First out at the crease was our tourism authorities boasting about beautiful scenery and outstanding health services. 

Next was Health Minister, Ramesh Pathirana, telling a media conference that “black tea” is a remedy. 

Following closely, the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, reinforced by senior army men, issued a directive to over 60 indigenous medical practitioners pressing them for a cure for Covid-19. 

The Minister seemed unaware of an earlier announcement by the North Central Province Commissioner of Ayurveda, Dr. Kumara Alwis, that his department had already “produced medicines for both the prevention and cure of Corvid-19”. 

He claimed they were manufactured “according to an ancient Ayurvedic formula” and had been “distributing since April 1”.

Nobody questioned that it was only in recent times that viruses became known.

All such grandstanding receives enthusiastic media coverage along with photographs and TV timeslots.

No one has dared question the Ayurvedic breakthroughs or traditional curative journeys being undertaken.

Reason for that undoubtedly are additional risks journalists must now run during these difficult times. 

Senior police officers have threatened “tough legal action against anyone criticising government officials” or “spreading misinformation on social media”. 

Criticism has always been part of journalistic function and the word “misinformation” is elastic, especially when used by senior state officials. 

In addition, mainstream online media can also be heaped into the description of social media.

Ministerial and media emphasis on ayurvedic medicine in these critical times needs a further look.

The strategic motive in promoting Ayurveda at any given opportunity is common knowledge among most scribes.

The majority of our population live in rural areas, bound by tradition. For them, for most illnesses, home-grown remedies prescribed by the local vedamahatmaya suffice.

In that context the ever-present veda becomes an influential person. Having him onside, waving blue, green or red flag, is an important political consideration. 

There is no intention here to deride the effects of medicinal plants. They have a place in many societies and provide a comforting effect on non-critical illnesses that run a natural course. 

In fact, as a child, when down with the flu, this writer recalls drinking kothamalli and weniwelgeta together with paracetamol. The hot remedy had a soothing effect while the symptoms of a runny nose, cough, temperature, aches and pains, ran their usual course.

I also knew a man (sadly now deceased) who swore by Ayurvedic treatment for persistent flatulence and uncomfortable reflux brought on by continual overindulgence. 

Another, terrified of surgical needles and knives, would have nothing but “native treatment” for his discomforting piles. 

I was one of a group when an outspoken medical doctor complained that when Ayurvedic treatments failed to work, patients ended up in his government ward in critical condition or about to die.

Unfortunately, observed experiments that tell us exactly what effects herbal treatments can have are non-existent.  

And I am sure all sentient persons must be aware that if western medicine continued to rely on traditional or folk medicine – on the medicinal plants of catnip, dandelion and lavender – humankind would not have contained or eradicated many deadly diseases in man and animal. 

That includes smallpox, polio, malaria and German measles.

Modern-day medicine and doctors are also performing miraculous interventions and surgeries to save otherwise doomed lives. 

However in our current Covid-19 disarray, guesswork, rumour and overblown belief have filled social media in addition to spaces in mainstream media. 

Many eccentric claims for prophylactics and cures are being made. 

On the pages of certain Sri Lankan media, self-described “independent researchers” claim the country is safe because of “high temperature and high humidity levels”. 

Another has advance a theory that the country safe as it is placed outside certain lines of horizontal latitude on the globe renders.

Sri Lanka is not alone in coming up with “traditional medicines” to treat coronavirus. Many countries in Asia and Africa are also finding sure-fire cures and prophylactics.

Even in Australia, the authorities are investigating a prominent TV chef for making bizarre claims. He is promoting a $14,990 electrical contraption, “a hybrid subtle energy revitalisation platform” which he says has a “couple of [recipes] in there for the Wuhan coronavirus”.

Amidst all this confusion, it is accepted as a matter of course that no one will dare challenge claims made on the efficacy and suitability of Sri Lanka’s folk medicine for stopping Covid-19. 

Die-hard nationalists believe that to do so is to insult traditions and customs. In an inexplicable way, they have conflated Ayurveda with national culture. 

All such thinking is undoubtedly reason why the World Health Organization has warned of “a parallel pandemic, of substandard and falsified products”.

It may be too soon to say, but the government’s preventative measures, including the lockdown, may be having the desired effect on slowing down the virus. 

But Covid-19 isn’t going away any time soon. That calls for everyone to get behind the government, health workers, security and administrative authorities, whatever and whoever that may be, who all have the herculean task of confronting a virulent virus and the economic fallout to follow, of joblessness, homelessness, hunger and death. 

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Journalism in SL is very much state controlled & official statements are not fact checked, instead the media provides a platform for self promotion for those seeking publicity & even political mileage for those in the business. In a TV discussion aired soon after the curfew in SL was imposed, along with the President of the GMOA, was another ‘Doctor’, presumably, an Ayurveda physician, who advised drinking kothamalli, instead of seeking immediate medical attention as the symptoms could very well be the initial stage of the virus. It was contradictory advise as the rest of the panel were insisting on coming forward if suspected of the infection but nobody raised the point. The TV discussion seemed like good natured banter with, particularly, the GMOA President, implying how effective the virus was being tackled, even better than in developed countries in Europe, under their guidance. However, the inconvenient truth is that more people die from mismanaged diabetes, kidney failure & similar illnesses which could be prevented if the govt. doctors, in general, are more concerned with avoidable deaths, instead of pursuing their private practice. I am aware of a woman in her mid 50s who died of diabetes because she resorted to native treatment in her final years as doctors in her local hospital were indifferent to her plight & did not advise her accordingly. Such people in UK have a full life well in to their 90s but the GMOA seemed concerned only on scoring ‘brownie points’ from the Corona virus, to the extent of even being critical of the health services in Europe with misinformation.

    No doubt there are medicinal properties in some herbs & plants but indigenous medicine & practitioners have been identified as political tools by opportunistic politicians, therefore, we have unregulated practices & medicines which the health authorities are ignoring. I am not against indigenous medicine but in the 21st century, everything needs to be supported with scientific evidence.

  • 8

    Very interesting, Dr.Rezel.
    Many current allopathic medicines were originally plant-based. Quinine and Aspirin came from tree bark. Indigenous people were observed chewing it for relief from malaria and fever.Metformin for diabetes, also originally came from a plant extract. Penicillin came from a fungus.
    All these are now synthesized from stuff like coal tar.
    Native physicians did know about plants, but they jealously guarded knowledge from each other, unlike the allopaths. In any case, the actual causes of disease, like viruses, bacteria, etc were totally unknown to Ayurveda. So it is indeed comical to see these people claiming to cure Covid-19. It is more an indictment of the ruling class, who despite their smart suits are mired in superstitious mumbo-jumbo.
    I wonder, what next, an Ayurvedic cure for computer viruses?

  • 3

    old codger you hit the nail on the head

  • 5

    Although the number of cases may be understated they still seem low compared to other countries.
    Most nations that have low rates of infections are hot countries, but this has nothing to do with the weather. Hot countries in Asia, Africa and S America are mostly poor countries.
    These nations have had a long history of Malaria, Dengue, Rat Fever etc. Is it not possible that their populations have developed stronger immune systems to fight these infections?
    Look at the children playing near those filthy canals in the slums. They have developed immunity to associated diseases whereas we would be knocked out by the smell alone.
    Perhaps that is why Sri Lanka’s numbers are low.

  • 2

    so the pot is calling the kettle black ? ! = so called modern medicine (allopathy) too does not have a cure for covid-19 as much as apparently traditional and natural medicine. does not….. why focus on killing a virus which in itself has no life and gets life only when it enters the human cell and replicates if and when immunity is compromised? !
    The key to good health is and has always been build immunity (more so when it comes to a virus) ……..simply because the virus was apparently only ‘discovered’ more recently does not in anyway mean that traditional and natural medicine did not deal with these organisms and their actions…traditional and natural medicine focuses on the whole person and a person taking responsibility for their health rather than shift blame and responsibility on an external organism for which one conveniently has to purchase expensive chemical based pharmaceuticals that have reached the end of the road (anti biotic resistance as one example) …even life saving procedures such as ventilators when used on covid-19 patients only holds the line until the body’s healing mechanism takes over or immune response is insufficient resulting in death……..the human race can do with less arrogance and more inquiry and accommodation that will lead to integration of different medical practices

    • 1

      God’s weda,
      “for which one conveniently has to purchase expensive chemical based pharmaceuticals “
      Whatever gave you that idea? Most common drugs are cheap. Diabetic drugs are around a rupee a tablet. Pressure medication a bit more. Yes, branded drugs are expensive, but are there cheap and proven Ayurvedic alternatives? I know a local Veda hamuduruwo who flogs bottles of oil for 3000 rupees.
      Your reference to “chemical based’ drugs is misleading. Are Ayurvedic drugs not chemicals? Just because something is synthesized does not make it worse than the same chemical from a plant.

      • 0

        the difference me thinks is that natural products tend to use the whole plant approach, whereas pharmaceuticals use one or possibly two elements that are isolated from hundreds of other elements, so we now have curcumin in a capsule having been extracted from turmeric that contains hundreds of other beneficial elements…much like what happened to food when they started processing it into fast food with a loss of hundreds of micro nutrients…as for the price factor you do have a point, unless you have to undergo dialysis or expensive chemotherapy regimes other drugs have been dropping in price… not a great wonder though, since the pharama industry has not come up with anything new over the last 10 yrs and is recycling the same old by changing a molecule or two and touting it as a new wonder, alas the market has not taken the bait….. hence maybe the desperate attempt now to vaccinate the whole world, with no liability and absolute indemnity !

        • 0

          Goda Weda,
          Thanks for your response. You seem to be a reasonable person, but perhaps you watch too many scare stories on YouTube?
          To start with, your assertion that many “useful ingredients” are present in plant derivatives which are not present in the synthetic products is illogical. Now, it was well known since ancient times that green plants/ fruits are essential for good health. But only in the 19th century was it found that the active ingredient is Vitamin C, also known as Ascorbic acid. This is synthesized as tiny pills, which can be carried around easily, unlike perishable fruits. If the tablets serve the purpose, what is the logic in using a plant extract which contains other vitamins too?
          I can supply another example, Acetic acid, which many people are deadly scared of. But this is the active natural ingredient in coconut vinegar. But many irrationally object to synthetic vinegar.
          I see you have something against vaccination too, but I will leave you to your prejudices.
          Just to be clear, I am not against Ayurvedic medicine. At one time it was more advanced than western medicine, but failed to keep up with science. What I object to is baseless hype by interested parties, which detracts from any real achievements of Ayurveda.

  • 2

    Probably, you are unaware that virus diseases are not knew to Sri lanka. Those are identified as GOD’s illnesses. Sinhala people had isolation of such patients, houses and treatment methods. there is a time also to those diseases to be prevalent. those viruses had a certain period of time during which it would make the person sick as well as it would go away after a certain time.
    This Covid-19 is a different situation,. It is fatal for weak people – mostly elderly, smokers, alcoholics, drug addicted and people with chronic disease conditions In the USA well know young peopole have died because their life styles had not been that exemplary. USA surgeon General has warned people not to smoke, stop drinking and drugs.
    Even in the west herbal drugs and many herbal essences are promoted for everything. The reason is antioxidents. for example, black tea has caffeine as well as high amounts of Tannin which is a poly-phenol with antioxident properties. On the other hand, coffee has caffeine but it can reduce the body immunity by lowering blood Sugar and roasted coffee has even carcinogenic compounds. It is the same with many green leaves which have anti-oxidents which can react with the protein surface of the virus and can inactivate that resulting no binding to the cell surfaces inside the body.
    If you do not know, the west is promoting a new group called NEUTRACEUTICALS. that includes almost every spice that we eat. For example. ginger.
    Remember vaccine production and commercialization is new and is not 100 years old yet.
    It looks your ISlamic cuture doe snot have any such preventive or health practices. Besides, you are writing it as you are laughing it at and ridiculing it. the reason is you should be very foreign to the Sinhala culture.

  • 3

    Modern Science has its own limits and constraints. The world has faced a challenging issue with the outbreak of Covid-19 that kills a few thousand people on a daily basis. What the modern Science has done so far is to find out:
    1) the nature of the virus (shape, lifespan, etc).
    2) how it spreads and under what circumstances etc).
    3) how to prevent it from getting to you and how you could prevent it from passing to another!
    4) it has no cure yet (prevention is better than cure is the only cure now)!
    5) it has no answers to many questions posed by the virus and therefore, countries like Sri Lanka have decided to even cremate the infected bodies (without taking a chance) disregarding the traditional beliefs of some people who want them to be buried.
    When there is no cure what can people do next is to improve and strengthen the immune system without waiting for ‘authoritative’ advice to do it.
    The first Covid patient who recovered has already said that doctors who treated him advised him to take very warm water several times a day!
    Sri Lankans are so used to drink hot black tea which is cheap in the country. If they can add other traditional drinks (that are always drunk ‘hot’), I don’t see any problem in it. ‘Some-thing’ is better than nothing? However, it is only a preventive measure and not a cure!

  • 0

    some how TRUMP is promoting Hydrochloroquinine as a corona virus medication. Avigen is a biopharmaceuticql precribed for neuropathological pain.

    siddhaurveda and local Sinhala vedacoma -are far more effective than those two western pharmaceutical. Only thing is those takes to accomplish it’s goals.

  • 3

    Well written essay from Christopher Rezel.

    I have a huge admiration for ayurvedic treatments, and have personally benefited from some. However, it does have limitations, and it is well to acknowledge them rather than blindly swear to a misguided hope. Unfortunately, not everybody has the capacity to know when to exercise the right option.

    It is at a time like this that the cuckoos amongst us get a free reign to entertain us with their favourite quack remedies.

    • 0

      Is it a coincidence that April is cuckoo season?

  • 2

    Ayurveda may be good in some areas but definitely not to treat viruses. The Ayurveda “Doctors” cannot even identify what the virus is (Ccommon cold or Covid). They call chicken pox, mumps etc “deyyamnge leda” (Gods diseases) as they have no treatment for it. The solution was to isolate chicken pox cases. Actually many western countries, when a child gets chicken pox they throw a party and invite all children in the area, so they also get chicken pox and get lifev time immunity. If one gets Chicken pox as a middle age or old person, it is very serious and can lead to complications
    The biggest queue after Corona was announced in Sri Lanka was at ayurweda supply shops. Kottamalli, venivelgeta , perumkayam and Tumeric powder supplies vanished as people stock piled. (No tumeric in shops for curries now)
    Ayurveda guys also said they have fumigation methods. It was seen on TV in Ratnapura a lorry with a tar barrel on top and a fire underneath burning some herbs and doing the streets. The smoke just went up in the air, as there ewas no deviceto target the smoke.
    We challenge the Ayurveda doctors, to get some corona virus to a lab, wash your hands with tumeric or perumkayam and touch the virus

    • 0

      you have misunderstood the whole approach of traditional and natural medicine…it is not to kill anything even a virus…its focus is to build immunity so that the virus (that has no life) does not enter the human cell and infect and become pathogenic, if it does enter then it is immunity that deals with it and one overcomes the condition…of course these dramas (of burning leaves) being played out do not portray this approach and are equally and dangerously misleading…challenging each other is of no use to anyone…modern allopathic medicine also does not after all scientific inquiry and its evidence based interventions have any solution to this virus, neither does it have any serious approach to developing and maintaining immunity, at least grant traditional medicine its due that it is good at and is meant to maintain immunity as preventative approach to good health

    • 0

      SAM Panditha: Even if western doctors identify the virus, there are no vaccines at this time. If people have proper life styles only the very old, very weak or feeble and people with serious chronic conditions have died. Very young seemingly energetic people have died. They are those who have wrong life styles. They take, liquor, drugs, absurd food eating, live on tablets or depression medication or sleeping tablets. Those are leaving.
      Both veniwelgata, Kohomba, and turmeric, Sudu lunu have anti-microbial properties. Those are also called NUTRACEUTICALS because of its neutritional as well as phamaceutical properties. I am pretty sure if some one search around Kotthamalli and perum kayam too are anti-microbial. I know one African was studying BLACK PEPPER for anti-microbial properties.

  • 0

    Thank you JD and Richmond Peiris, valuable and most enlightening

  • 3

    Goda Weda, how do you know that the liquids and powders the Ayurvedic weda gives you builds up your immunity? What proof do you have? Immunity is something you have, or don’t have. It cannot be measured. Giving the Ayurvedic weda Rs. 250 does not buy you anything other than liquids and powders. You might as well have a dram of arrack in the hope your immunity is strengthened.

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