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Archive for the ‘Culture and Health’ Category

By Yanzie Chow

“How would your family treat a sore throat?”

This question, when I first heard it, made me chuckle. I remembered back to when my elderly Chinese grandmother, upon hearing the words “sickness,” would bustle into the kitchen and immediately begin concocting a cure-all brew. I’ve spotted bundles of tweed-like herbs, yellowish roots, even dried grasshoppers on the counter, waiting to be submerged into the mixture. For the sore throat in particular, she would simply hand me a jar of pei pa koa – loquat syrup, an extremely bitter and minty liquid with the consistency of tar. I wouldn’t be able to speak for an hour after swallowing a spoonful, but I would emerge as vocal as ever.

I wonder how my grandmother would respond to China’s rapid medical advancement, its movement towards Westernized practices, and the effects on the ancient remedies that she entrusts her health and vitality to.  The New York Times ran a fascinating article titled “Nobel Renews Debate on Chinese Medicine,” discussing the aftermath of Tu Youyou’s receiving China’s first Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline for extracting the malaria fighting compound Artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua.

 In 1969, Dr. Tu was recruited by Chairman Mao to “523,” a medical research project designated for the search for a natural malaria treatment that was killing North Vietnamese troops in southwest China. She and her team stumbled upon the usage of qinghao, sweet wormwood to treat malaria while studying the Manual of Clinical Practice and Emergency Remedies by Ge Hong of the East Jin Dynasty. She tested the effects of this treatment on humans successfully, and it soon became a major advantage in campaigns battling malaria in Asia and Africa.

The article, however, also touches on a conflict surrounding the implications of the evolving practice of Chinese traditional medicine. Some traditional physicians (associated with the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences) argue that artemisia, which has been used for centuries to fight malaria and other fevers, must be acknowledged through the lens of cultural heritage. More contemporary scientists (associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences), on the other hand, argue that future medical development must focus more on researching the value of herbs with a modern scientific approach. These debates reflect an emerging division among Chinese physicians and scientists over the desire to be recognized as major contenders in the medical field today, juxtaposed with a great pride in medical achievements of the past.

Ongoing considerations about the path that China should take remain, especially as a whopping 1.1 million Chinese health professionals are being trained in Western medicine, compared to 186,947 being trained as traditional doctors. What are the benefits of investing in the learning, teaching of traditional medicinal techniques and remedies, and incorporating them into practice? Would referring back to natural treatments be an effective way to take advantage of therapeutic knowledge that physicians years ago have already discovered?  At the same time, would traditional medicine and remedies be able to ward off – prevent, treat, and protect against– devastating modern epidemics without 21st century interventions? Would patients of this generation trust treatment grounded in ancient medicinal practices rather than technological ones?

When reflecting on these questions, we must remember that medical innovation is a double-edged sword, both destructive and progressive for society. For example, China has been criticized for mishandling of antibiotics – from over-prescribing to patients to overusing antibiotics to treat livestock and fish – that has led to widespread microbial resistance, and there is much discussion about the need to return to building natural immunity and curatives, rather than reliance on chemical prevention. Perhaps moving forward, China and all nations, really, would be better off building a bridge between traditional and modern medicine, rather than glorifying one or the other.

 

Relevant:

Exclusive Interview: Did Tu’s Nobel Prize prove the credibility of Chinese Traditional Medicine?

 

References:
Jarkowsky, Patrick. “Greetings, from the Post-antibiotic Era.” Global Health Governance.   Young Voices Blog, 19 Jan. 2016. <http://blogs.shu.edu/ghg/2016/01/19/greetings-from-      the-post-antibiotic-era/>.

Johnson, Ian. “Nobel Renews Debate on Chinese Medicine.” The New York Times. The New    York Times, 10 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/world/asia/nobel-  renews-debate-on-chinese-medicine.html>.

Phillips, Tom. “Tu Youyou: How Mao’s Challenge to Malaria Pioneer Led to Nobel Prize.” The      Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Oct. 2015. <https://www.theguardian.com/

science/2015/oct/05/youyou-tu-how-maos-challenge-to-malaria-pioneer-led-to-nobel-

prize >.

 

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By Sherylle Estrellas

Across the world, many developed countries supply universal health care, allowing everyone the health coverage and service he or she needs at no or little cost to the consumer. Meanwhile, America, among the most developed and richest countries in the world, still has yet to implement an equitable and efficient health care coverage system. Although the Affordable Care Act means to improve the system, one can only wonder why it has taken so long for America to change its ways. Economist Victor Fuchs suggests a few reasons why.

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-By Sarah Boyd

The Inuit population is an indigenous group inhabiting Greenland, parts of Artic Canada, and the United States (Alaska). Following centuries old tradition within harsh and chilling conditions, the Inuit obtain food through hunting, fishing, and gathering. This includes hunting fish, seal, caribou, whale, walrus, polar bear, musk ox, fox, and wolf (1). “Because the Inuit in Canada and Greenland eat top predators such as beluga whales and seals, they are among the world’s most contaminated human beings” (4). (more…)

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-By Chelsea Papa

Having an immediate family of mostly immigrants from southern Italy, I am no stranger to traditional medicine practices that deviate from the “western” biomedical model prevalent in the United States. Whenever I would express that I had a headache or showed signs of illness, my grandmother would tell me that she would do the “malocchio” (evil eye) for me to make whatever it was go away. She would lead me over to a bowl on the kitchen counter that she would pour oil into and begin whispering in Italian. Then she would cut the oil with a knife, making it swirl around the bowl in a unique pattern, and exclaim, “Chelsea! This is a bad one. Somebody is trying to get you.” When she was finished, she would tell me the discomfort would be gone soon. The idea of the evil eye as a malevolent supernatural force that others can send your way to inflict harm has permeated many cultures of the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. Admittedly, I never believed in the evil eye as a cause of misfortune and illness or that it could be cast away by the malocchio ritual, though I will never tell this to my grandmother. I always chuckle when my mom puts on her evil eye bracelet before a family gathering to ward off any malice directed towards her. Despite my disbelief, the ritual often left me transfixed, and I would gaze at my grandmother as if she had a deep connection to another sphere that I was not privy to. For this reason, I have long been interested in alternative healing methods, regardless of my skepticism of their effectiveness. (more…)

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-By Nicole Rapkin

Should terminally ill children have the right to end their own lives? On Thursday, February 13, 2014, Belgium voted ‘yes’ when its lower house of parliament passed the new “right-to-die” legislation by a significant majority. Belgium, which legalized adult euthanasia in 2002, is the first country to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age (Bartunek 2014). (more…)

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By Laura Kodack

I came across one article that caught my eye, not the title itself but more of the facts that were in the article. The article titled “Russia’s love affair with Vodka lures many to an early grave” was shocking but almost expected. Eastern Europeans are known for their consumption and love for vodka but the article revealed some interesting news I was not aware of. I was surprised to see so many Russians still drinking Vodka though they know high consumption of alcohol leads to early death. What surprised me the most was how drastic the changes in mortality rates were due to the restrictions or changes in government. After prohibitions on alcohol consumption in the mid-1980s and tighter restrictions of vodka sales in 2006, mortality rates decreased significantly. However, once the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in 1998, mortality rates rose drastically. “The first event of the free market was cheap vodka and cheap cigarettes.” (Zaridze). Without restrictions Russians do not have any control and actually drink themselves to death. I found this interesting because prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was doing well and mortality rates were low. (more…)

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By Kimi Sharma
As it was every Sunday morning, my e-mail inbox had been inundated with TED talks that my father thought would explore the untarnished brilliance of individuals in society and help incite my dormant passion to bring about change. I was expecting the usual group of talks by respected and inspiring doctors through which my father hinted at his burning desire for me to attend medical school despite my fervent rejection of the idea. So on that Sunday I watched a TED talk that largely reinstated my faith in an individual’s undying determination to aid others (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6qqqVwM6bMM). (more…)

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