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Tribals have extensive knowledge of medicines, say experts

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Jamshedpur, Nov 16 : Tribals have an astonishing amount of knowledge of medicines which it is imperative that we document for posterity, an expert said here on Wednesday — the second day of Jharkhand’s tribal conclave ‘Samvaad’.

Palpu Pushpangadan, an acclaimed botanist, H Sudarshan, a social health worker and founder of Karuna, an organisation which runs primary public health care centres, and Simon Oraon, a tribal environmentalist who is also known as the ‘Waterman of Jharkhand’, spoke at the conclave and emphasised on the values of the tribal health system.

“I have travelled the length and breadth of the country since the 80s and found an astonishing repository of medical know-how among the tribals.

I have done my bit in documenting these oral remedies in my book ‘Glimpse of Tribal India’, so that a process of standardising these methods and according to them the same credibility as ayurveda, can be started,” Pushpangadan said at the conclave which had an audience of tens of traditional healers among others.

“Even M. S. Swaminathan (the pioneer of the Green Revolution in India) had acknowledged this fact as early as 1982 when he too had felt the need for such a documentation,” he continued.

The tribal traditional healers were later divided into several groups as per their expertise across ailments to share their medical knowledge with one another. A paper on the same interaction is also scheduled to be presented on November 19 here.

Sudarshan spoke about the utility of the tribal health system but at the same time warned against quacks.
“Traditional healers are not quacks. They won’t use steroids and other quick fix solutions. We need to learn to distinguish between the two kinds,” he told IANS.

“At the same time, we should be wary of not romanticising traditional medicine too much, objectivity has to be there. But I know 20-25 per cent of all ailments can be taken care of using these medicines as primary health care,” he said.

Sudarshan said that he, along with others, has been working to get these remedies and their practitioners recognised formally at least at the Gram Panchayat level to begin with, to bring about its regulation and prevent it from being abused.

“A cough syrup to me is nothing but just some water mixed with some alcohol and sugar. But it is sold for Rs 60-80 in the market. Instead, you can eat tulsi leaves or other specific herbs, which work as natural cough expectorants, and rather not pay for such branded medicines.

Ayurveda too has fallen into the same trap of marketing business where even a simple remedy will cost you hundreds of rupees. We need to protect tribal remedies from such an exploitation from multinationals,” he added.

On being asked whether tribal medicines should be tested as per the standards of modern medicines, Pushpangadan disagreed saying that both systems are different and that tribal medicines are a system in themselves.

Sudarshan elaborated that modern medicines’ testing was based on the efficacy of the active ingredient in the medicines which is prone to side effects, whereas in the tribal health system you have the whole herb, which has an offsetting effect.

Oraon, on a lighter note regaled the audience saying that Padma Shri has put a lot of burden on him as he is now required to go to places around the country and give talks.

“One Padma Shri won’t do. All those people who march with me should get Padma Shri. I could not have done alone what I did,” said Oraon, who received the award earlier this year.

Apart from Oraon, Sudarshan and Pushpangadan are also Padma Shri awardees.

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