Today we're going to take a look at how Chinese alternative medicine spread into the Western world. Promoters of alternative medicine claim that this ancient wisdom was (and is) in common use throughout China, and the Western world is becoming aware of its value. Skeptics of this position point out that alternative medicine was only used in Chinese rural areas where conventional treatments were not available, and it became popular because it was inexpensive, not because it was effective. The actual history brings some interesting perspective onto both of these points of view.
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Mao's government had tried since 1949 to recruit and encourage doctors to move from the cities to the country, but this had been largely a failure. What healthcare there was had been mainly provided by traveling teams of doctors who would spend a few weeks in the outlying provinces, but would then return to their hospitals in the cities where they could receive a decent income. The problem grew more pronounced with the increasing spread of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease that caused infection and organ damage, and is most notably characterized by swelling in the abdomen. Schistosomiasis came to be something of an iconic symbol for the lack of healthcare in China.
Mao planned a fix. In 1968, Red Flag published what was to be China's solution. Mao's experience had taught him that efforts to push healthcare out to the countryside were doomed, and so he did the opposite. Farmers were recruited from all over China, given free training, and sent back to their own villages to serve as medical professionals.Within just a few years, some 150,000 doctors and 350,000 paramedics — half a million workers to serve over half a billion patients — were at work throughout the country. They became known as the barefoot doctors. Candidates were required to be high school graduates.
1975 ARC Identifier 46549 / Local Identifier 286.260. DOCUMENTARY FILM: Highlights work of Chinese paramedics in rural China. Paramedics work to provide sanitation, reduce pest problems, and care for sick animals. They also have duties related to human birth control, dentistry, tonsil removal, and minor ailments requiring herbal remedies or acupuncture. U.S. Agency for International Development. (ca. 1998 - )
Lured by a painting he saw of a barefoot doctor in a Chinese magazine, Dr Saroj Dhital moved to Shanghai to study medicine. Returning to Nepal he took the lessons he learned from China's barefoot doctors and applied them to the villages of Nepal. Over time the concept expanded to use video conferencing via the internet as a means to allow barefoot doctors to bring complicated cases to specialists in Kathmandu.