Traditional Healer in Action

Traditional Healers Vs Quacks: Are they Different Sides of the Same Coin?

The article titled, ‘Quacks in India Claim Majority‘ is what led me to write this article, which was originally intended to be a comment in that article.

Tradition Vs Modernization

For the average city educated MBBS/MD doctors, any kind of a health practitioner other than himself/herself is a ‘Quack’. This only betrays the modern doctor’s shallow understanding of a basic, yet much neglected aspect of health in this country. It should be realized that health and disease have been important components of society ever since Homo sapiens started living in communities; therefore, along with the day-to-day needs of food, water, shelter and security, every community has developed its own ways of handling illness. Hence, priests had a dual role of being healers in the early civilizations besides their primary role of being a priest. In fact, the difference never probably existed then. As man became more sophisticated, the way illnesses were looked at and treated changed; there is a vast spectra in the kind of people who deal with treatment of illnesses, from the Occult Priest-Healer to the Modern Doctor.

Role of the Traditional Healers. Do we take it seriously?

It is an unfortunate fact that many vast areas of our country have yet to come to terms with modern civilization in the first place, leave alone modern hospitals and their life-saving knowledge, skills and infrastructure. In areas such as those, there are people who are known as ‘Traditional Healers’ who have inherited the position in their respective communities as the de facto ‘Doctors’. The knowledge that these (usually) gentlemen have gained is something that has been refined over generations. It is observed at times that these Traditional Healers have succeeded where modern Medicine has failed.

Quacks or Not?

As civilization progresses rapidly and more and more areas of our country are being invaded by mobile phone towers and creation of special economic zones (SEZs), the natural order of the communities is crumbling, forcing mass exodus of rural folk to urban areas, with one of the results being decreased patronage of Traditional Healers, leading to the phenomenon of amalgamation of traditional medicine and modern medicine, which unfortunately is an unhealthy trend. There are unqualified people who have worked in hospitals or private clinics, and having gained confidence set up their own practice as ‘Doctors’. These, mind you, are very different from the ‘Traditional Healers’ that I mentioned before. They are the ‘Quacks’ that everybody hates, who with their inferior knowledge of modern medicine display a false confidence. They are a bane to the communities they exist in. On the other hand, we have the traditional healers who are a blessing to their communities, which are generations and miles away from any remote semblance to a modern civilization.

Promoting Traditional Healers the Right Way

To bring about some awareness, there should be a nationwide survey of the traditional healers, and a register should be maintained. Indeed, knowledge possessed by them should be studied in a scientific and organized manner and not just written off without due consideration. Beneficial aspects of such traditional practices should be integrated with mainstream medical system without much ado. Then, we would only stand to gain; after all, it is them who have served the health needs of the communities for generations. This is also one area where there is a vast scope for research.

The Final Verdict

As regards the ‘compounder-turned-doctors’, ‘ANM-turned-doctors’, and the like, the need of the hour is strict law enforcements against such persons, against pharmacies supporting them, and those people patronizing them.

Scientific Research

• Meet the Author • Dr. Noel Mathew Varghese

Dr. Noel is a medical graduate from St. John’s Medical College, and has worked extensively among the rural folk in India and has elaborated on his experience. He regularly blogs at Gauge of Reason. He is currently doing his residency in Internal Medicine in Singapore.

2 comments… add one
  • Interesting article. Not just in India, but most countries in Asia too have their own versions of traditional healers or quack doctors, some even refer to them as faith healers. I think the belief on these healers have been a part of folk tradition and have just been passed on. Some conditions or sickness cured by these healers are believed to be produced by a supernatural element or being (also tied in folk believes). However, when a person goes to see a real doctor, the patient gets a more scientific explanation of his condition and a more proper medical treatment. People should be able to draw the line between folk medicine and real medicine to ensure that he gets the proper treatment and not some ritual healing that may endanger his life

  • Yes traditional healers are everywhere. Some are more refined than others, especially in the western hemisphere. I would not classify faith healers as traditional healers. They depend mainly on religious believes for healing.
    Fake doctors also have caused so much havoc in Africa. So many deformities are caused by them. I believe that natural herbs can heal people, but as you mentioned, traditional healers need to be registered and monitored especially in the western world. Developing countries might find it hard to do so because of high cost of conventional medicine.


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