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Native medicine and its place today

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By Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva

Much discussion and controversies have arisen today as the world is trying to find a remedy for the pandemic ravaging mankind. As allopathic (Western) medicine found no acceptable cure for the illness so far, vaccines are being introduced at a rapid pace seeming to be effective in preventing the disease. Due to the desperate situation, time taken for developing such vaccines and their use in human beings has been shortened to a fraction of what we have known hitherto. Thus, long term harmful effects, though we are reassured to be minimal, are yet to be seen. With new more virulent strains of the virus already appearing in the UK, how effective the vaccines would be in the long term is anybody’s guess.

To fill the gap in the availability of scientifically verified treatment, many Ayurvedic or native medicines (also called traditional or alternative medicines) have come to the fore. Almost every week a person with questionable credentials comes up with a decoction claiming to be based on an ancient formula brought down the generations secretly in ola manuscripts. They are appealing to the patriotic sentiments of the people expecting them to accept these out of respect for tradition. Sudarshani paanaya, Dhammika peniya are among the foremost. The claims of their origins from divine sources or being brought down from the Himalayas have added to the mystique. As a more recent example we remember how the leaves and the latex of Papaya were promoted for treating dengue fever, later found to be of no use.

In my childhood, I swallowed gallons of kottamalli with or without ginger and katuwelbatu as a remedy for fevers, common colds and the likes. Venivelgeta was added to prevent tetanus after an injury. During school holidays we were given aralu to “cleanse” the bowels to survive the next school term! Epsom salt (savinda lunu) was added to make the induced diarrhoea more profuse and hence to make the treatment more effective. Later on, I spared my own children the agony of going through that treatment. We have heard about various treatments given to prevent rabies after a dog bite, the success proven if the victim did not get the fatal illness after eating pork. Similarly, deaths after snake bites were supposed to be prevented by various forms of native treatment.

There is a scientific explanation for many of these so-called successes. With a very few exceptions most viral infections are self-limiting. A “drug’ given during the illness, whether allopathic or traditional, makes the patient feel comfortable, but the duration of the illness itself is not generally shortened nor complications made less likely. As for tetanus, a majority of wounds will not anyway lead to serious infection. Most snake bites are harmless needing no treatment; so are dog bites. These are a few examples where no one can claim success for their medication as the patients would have recovered anyway without any intervention. There are risks when people overlook well proven vaccines for the prevention of rabies, tetanus and other illnesses or antitoxins for snake bites and resort to traditional medicine.

Almost all the medications used by native physicians are of natural origin. Roots, yams, barks and leaves are the sources. Unfortunately, with the advance of scientific method little or no attempt has been made to isolate the effective chemical compounds in them. Hence in decoctions like kasayas, multiple plant derivatives have to be boiled together in a cumbersome procedure producing a bitter unpalatable drink. Fortunately, some preparations like paspanguwa, peyawa and samahan are available in sachets, which we still take for symptomatic relief showing our faith in native medication. Likewise, some Western medicines are of plant origin where the active ingredient has been isolated and produced in a palatable tablet form. Some original plant compounds are now manufactured in laboratories to increase the volume of production.

It was identified many years ago that some commonly available plants had blood sugar lowering properties. They are recommended by some for use by the diabetic patients. However, one is not aware of any attempts to isolate the active compounds and make them commercially available. It is the duty of governments, and the ministry in charge of traditional medicine, to facilitate and encourage research into finding active ingredients in traditional medicine.

The situation is even worse when non communicable diseases (NCDs) are considered. Illnesses like heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis are cases in point. We are still unraveling the exact causation of these illnesses. In such diseases, giving immediate symptomatic relief and the prevention of well-known debilitating or life-threatening long term complications are mandatory. The allopathic drugs have been tested and tried over a long period of time in scientific analysis and well controlled clinical trials to prove that they are effective in treating the illnesses as well as having minimal side effects. Many chemicals, molecules and compounds which started off in laboratories with this process had to be abandoned due to such undesirable effects or lack of effectiveness. Whether any traditional medicine has been subjected to such intensive study is not known. It should be stressed that no “trial and error” method is acceptable when dealing with human life!

There are many anecdotal stories of malignant disease being cured by native medicine. In almost all these instances people have resorted to alternative medicine when allopathic treatment has failed to prevent the progress of the disease. In these instances, after some period of apparent improvement, the disease inexorably gets worse. Even without any treatment, many chronic illnesses are known to subside spontaneously. Alterations in the immunity of the individual may be a factor. Whether any form of treatment can claim credit for such “cures” is questionable. It has become the vogue to undertake extreme dietary changes and other forms of life style modification to alter the course of chronic diseases including malignancies.

People had total faith in native medicine and occult sciences in the olden days as there was no alternative remedy available. Stories about the times of King Ravana and the physician king Buddhadasa are legendary and would have played an important role at that time. But when more established scientifically proven allopathic medicine is available for many illnesses, quoting ancient unverified stories will not help. No one will ever think of going back to horse-drawn carriages because the fuel powered cars cause environmental pollution!

The merits of native medicine are further diminished by their “adulteration” with allopathic drugs alleged to be practiced by native physicians. It is widely suspected that syrups, gulis, etc., actually contain allopathic drugs powdered and reconstituted. Many Ayurveda and related study courses now include some teaching in allopathic medicine and pharmacology. Some traditional physicians prescribe antibiotics and pain killers to gullible public who are naïve enough to believe that they are trained in both systems of medicine! It is well known that a large number of native physicians take allopathic medicine for their own illnesses like hypertension and diabetes. How some such physicians publicly advise against the use of drugs for diabetes like insulin and metformin is deplorable. Over the years these drugs have been proven without doubt to improve the disease and prevent long term complications.

Many herbal products imported mostly from Asian countries currently do not require registration by the drug regulatory authorities. These are costly and are often of no proven benefit. They are commonly prescribed even by doctors registered in allopathic medicine. They should be brought under regulatory control without further delay.

The media play a big role in promoting unproven medications, both traditional and allopathic, spreading harmful misinformation. Politicians seem to take refuge in them when their action or inaction disappoint the public who are looking up to them to control the current pandemic. It is deplorable how they mislead the people by openly ingesting such decoctions. Obviously, they will not be held accountable if unforeseen toxic effects occur in those who swallow it. Those responsible have put the cart before the horse, by asking the experts to decide on the issue after they have already appeared to openly recommend the decoction to the people. The short term substantial financial benefits to those who peddle unproven medications is an incentive to continue hoodwinking the gullible public. The risk of such falsely reassured people ignoring effective public health guidance is worrying.

While showing scenes where alcohol is consumed or there is tobacco smoking, the television screens show a legend to say that these habits are harmful to health. Likewise, it should be mandatory that when questionable medication is shown or advertised, a legend to say that these claims are unproven could rectify the issue to some extent. Ideally, electronic media and other news organisations should have their own advisors on health matters, who can clarify issues before giving publicity to such products. This is especially so at a time when health programs are said to be very popular among viewers

This article is written in good faith to overcome the epidemic of misinformation which is as harmful as the pandemic itself. Coming from a physician trained in allopathic medicine who has much faith in the symptomatic relief given by them, it is not intended to discredit the native forms of treatment or their practitioners. Over thousands of years native medicines were the only form of treatment available to help the people survive illness. More properly conducted research is the urgent need to make the system relevant to today’s needs. However, being ignorant enough to get stuck in history and tradition would ensure that the nation will continue to stagnate without progress. Issues have been logically discussed in the hope that people will be informed enough to see things as they are.

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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