Ayurveda in Kerala

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Published by Edge of Humanity Magazine 

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“2…3 hours”. LL’s average sleep each night – the founder and head doctor at Kattakkada Thaluk private hospital. He’s rubbing MegaGel on a burn. An auto-rickshaw driver had just bought the cream from a nearby pharmacy. We’re sitting in a small room for dressings and injections. Patients are sedated. They wander around in their boxers or sit staring at walls in vacant rooms. Lizards and ants filter across the walls.

On average 60% of an individual’s average wage is spent to gain entry into a hospital like Kattakkada. But a public health care system exists in India? “The quality is very poor, it exists but most people will go to private”, Shabi explains, a local from Mumbai. Although healthcare is free for Indians with the lowest income, the quality of doctors and lack of resources in rural areas lead many to private alternatives. With government spending on public healthcare having fallen over the last few years, the Catastrophic Health Expenditure (CHE) has risen. The CHE is triggered if an individual’s health-costs threaten a family’s ability to live above the poverty line.

A universal health-care system is being formulated under Narendra Modi, which would provide financial coverage across India. However, following the country’s budgetary strains, its implementation was halted last year. Many query how these plans will materialise following fiscal shortages, partly caused by Modi’s increasing liberalisation of the economy and the country’s high-rate of tax evasion.

Polystyrene plates are pushed into the red soil. Remnants of mung beans and rice speak of the long journey many undertook to arrive on time at Sivananda’s health camp, a 10 minute drive from Kattakkada hospital. “Its quiet today”, one of the volunteers say. We’re part of a crowd of 800 people. Usually there are over 1,000.

The men in the shade sit and talk, the woman are in the queue fighting to get their medicine following examinations by an Ayurvedic doctor. And then they switch. The climate in the queue oscillates between laughter and urgency. When the man in charge of ushering in  the patients to the medical room permits 10 more people, the white prescriptions become flags waved to assert the individual’s right to entry.

These white sheets of paper will have prescriptions tailored to whether you have a vatta, pisha or katta dosha – the three types of body constitution in the Ayurvedic worldview. The term Ayurveda stems from the classical language Sanskrit, and the medicine promotes a herbal based form of healthcare.

The health camp is funded through Sivananda Ashram, built in the 70’s by Swami Vishnu Devananda. The building is an old Ayurvedic hospital, the conditions for repurposing the disused space was to set up a health-care charity. The ashram receives 1000’s of tourists a year, while its fees for Indian guests are half-price. The ashram donates all of its profits to the health camp, while also employing over 100 locals to work on its grounds. With India’s ever-growing tourism industry, this is a way to benefit the local community through the influx of foreign money, as opposed to exploiting the lack of local job choices through low wages.

This form of tourism is embedded in Kerala’s co-operative ethos. Driving through the Communist leaning country’s urban centres, walking in the forests, DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India) will be painted on tree-trunks, homes, shop-fronts. Crumbled hammer and sickle signs endure through the Monsoon rains. Che’s eyes watch passerbys from lamp-posts.

The state is known for its population’s high levels of political engagement. In the 1970s, ‘The Kerala Model’ became international regarded for instigating reforms that provided a high-level quality of life for all demographics. Land reforms and public welfare were given precedent over a high GDP, with many distribution of wealth programmes lessening structural inequality. The state’s local community care units, fuelled through government funds and micro-donations, puts the quality of palliative care far above any other state in India. Palliative care, a therapeutic way to treat sufferers of serious illnesses, is fuelled through Kerala’s co-operative foundations. With only 3% of Indian’s population, the Southern state provides two-thirds of this mode of care in India.

However, following a deficit in government spending in the mid-80’s, Kerala’s health care system has become progressively privatised, leading many to hope for revitalisation schemes from the government echoing those of the 70s. The growing privatisation of India’s economy, coupled with the delays in Modi’s welfare system, highlight the importance of community run health camps such as Sivananda Medical Camp, driven through volunteers and re-directing the potentially harmful influx of foreign money to beneficial ends.

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