Traditional practices shadow modern medicine
MAZAR-I-SHARIF (PAN): Zabiullah’s grandmother placed his younger brother in a blanket, then he watched as the elderly woman and another woman started shaking the blanket until the boy spun around in it.
Zabihullah, 32, a resident of Chamtal district of northern Balkh province, said his brother was being treated for diarrhea and vomiting.
In Balkh, many residents still treat their patients the traditional way as medical doctors can be a long way from their homes.
When a child has a stomach ache, for example, instead of being taken many kilometres to visit a doctor, he is treated at home.
Zabiullah said his grandmother told him his younger brother’s liver had been displaced which was why he was vomiting and had diarrhea and that spinning him around would make it return to its rightful location.
Zabiullah's grandmother has been treating such diseases with traditional medicine for years.
However, doctors believe such treatments are not useful, and can even lead to more serious complications.
Dr. Muhibullah Zagham, a doctor at Farabi hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif, said diarrhea and vomiting had nothing to do with the liver.
He said the causes were mainly in the stomach.
Other traditional treatments seem less obvious.
Bibi Sabro, 55, from Wacha Wana village of Charbolak district, said she has been practicing traditional medicine for 20 years and can treat sore throats, infertility and other diseases.
She explained how she treated a 6-year-old child suffering from throat problems. “When I checked his throat, I noticed it was shut, so I put my finger inside and reopened it."
She said she first dipped her finger in ash before inserting it down the child’s throat. She pressed until the child’s throat bled.
"I do all this voluntarily and do not ask for money, but if someone wants to give me money, I won't say no," she said. Some people give her 50 afghanis, others have paid her 2,000 afghanis.
"Whoever comes for treatment does not leave unhappy.”
Gul Wali, 36, a resident of the same village, said he and his wife had been unable to have a child for five years. As a last resort, two years ago, he turned to Bibi Sabro, however, he still has not been able to have a child.
Each time he paid Bibi Sabro 500 afghanis, hoping God would bless him with a child.
Bibi Sabro also treats women who cannot get pregnant. She says the problem is that a woman’s uterus has fallen out of place after marriage, and so she helps the woman to get it back in place.
She says she ties a woman with her face against a tree and leaves her there for several hours. After she is released, her stomach has been massaged and her uterus is in the right place again. "If someone does not get pregnant after this, then it is Allah's willing, whatever I know I practise on her," she said.
Other traditional doctors use animal skin to treat medical problems.
In Sadmish, on the outskirts of the Alburz mountains in Balkh, traditional medicine is preferred, such as covering children with animal skin when they get sick.
Ghopi, 45, a resident of Sadmish, said last year his 5-year-old son had heatstroke and instead of taking him to a doctor, he treated him at home.
He said he covered his son with the skin of an animal for eight hours and after, the boy was fully recovered. "First we clean the skin, and then we make a shirt out of it to cover the child from chest to umbilicus."
Traditional treatments were better than medical ones as they had been passed down through the family so must have some success, he said.
However, doctors say animal skin cannot help children, and could cause other diseases.
Even if the skin is washed thoroughly, there could be bacteria which cause disease.
Some materials used by traditional practitioners are considered useful by doctors, but still they are not academic.
Sayed Amir, 43, a resident of Ghondak village in Balkh, said he treated his child with the potassium permanganate, a salt like disinfectant, and water.
Dr. Mirwais Rabi, head of the public health department in Balkh, said traditional treatments are not consistent with medical knowledge and that some could even cause more problems.
He said medicine had developed a lot in recent years and there were many different options people could choose from.
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