Mobile homeopathy for the smiling coast of West Africa
HE WHO HAS HEALTH HAS EVERYTHING
Dear fellow homeopaths, I would like to invite you to read the following article about our work in The Gambia. My first trip to the smallest country in Africa changed my life. For me and for the core team as well as for a lot of our volunteers, this is our remedy – it is grounding, it is breath taking, it is a big change from everything you experience in your day to day life and apart from being long days, it is fun. It is a unique experience and every single trip is different, entails new adventures, memories, laughter and sometimes tears.
We rely entirely on donations and have been awarded charity status in 2012. All our trips are self-funded and all donations are used for remedies, transport, translators and what we need in order to treat as many people as possible while we are on location. We are always looking for volunteers to join us on these trips. Qualified homeopaths are most welcome as are volunteers of any kind in order to support us throughout the day. As you will be able to see for yourself, we are currently building a clinic so that we can be more on site, stay longer and train locals in basic homeopathy.
For donations please visit www.thebushhomeopaths.org and follow the donations link go directly to or http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com
And search for the bush homeopaths.
We truly appreciate any contribution to our cause. To read more in depth travel stories, please refer to the blogs on our website and feel free to contact us should you have any questions.
Who are The Bush Homeopaths
The Bush Homeopaths are celebrating their fourth year of bringing homeopathic medicine to The Gambia. Sameena Azam and her colleague Danielle Abramov started the bi-annual trips to sub-Saharan Africa in 2010. Kim Purdy joined shortly thereafter, followed myself. We are all passionate homeopaths, wanting to help the poorest people in the most remote areas of this small country. Due to the rainy season, we have only been able to travel twice a year, as the roads are impassable during the heavy downpours. We are travelling in a small bus to reach out to the villagers who have no medical help.
The Gambia is the smiling coast of West Africa and has 1.6 million inhabitants and only about 80 doctors who are mainly located in the capital Banjul. It is encapsulated in the country Senegal. The river Gambia can only be crossed by ferry to reach the northern shore, as it divides the whole country and opens out into the Atlantic. The ferry crossing is a gruesome experience as the ferries are old, always overloaded and the scramble to get on board is very time consuming. Especially the northern site has no medical support; this is why we try to go as many times as transportation constraints allow us to.
The roads in Gambia are – apart from the capital – sandy roads, often not even compacted properly to drive on. Therefore the speed at which we can get from place to place is very limited and we have to use a driver to navigate around potholes, donkey cars, goats, cows and monkeys as well as children playing on the roads. Being close to the equator, the heat is mostly around 30 degrees, very humid in the summer and dryer in our winter months. The Gambia is a Muslim country but secular.
The HIV rate is very low compared to other African countries. Schooling is neither compulsory nor free, therefore illiteracy is very high and a lot of families cannot afford the fees or prefer the child to help on the fields. Often enough it is impossible to get to the school as the distance is too far. Hygiene is a huge factor as the lack of it leads to many illnesses in The Gambia –it is part of the school curriculum – and nowhere else.
We usually take a number of volunteers with us, so that we can work in several teams when we set up our little clinic under the main mango tree of the village. For the time being, we travel in one bus, but for our trips in 2014, we are planning to take a larger team of volunteers to cover more of the much poorer and “forgotten” north bank. Currently we are able to treat 1500 people during our week’s stay, hoping to increase this number as we get more established. We set out early in the morning. Once the roads turn into barely passable sand, and children are greeting us on the street, we know we have arrived at our destination. We start setting up. We sit on tree trunks, camping chairs, whatever we can get. We use our knees, tables, boards and Materia Medicas to place our notebooks for the case taking. Villagers are already crowding around us, asking for medicine. Some villages have a first come first served order, in others it is the most forceful and loudest who gets the first treatment – sometimes, as we try to prioritise. Remedies, medicating potencies, spray bottles, phials, repertory and materia medica are taken out and volunteers from the village are needed to translate their issues into English. Although this is their first language, most people do not speak enough English to explain their condition and use their main language Mandika or one of the other ten tribal languages. We try to treat the most needy first: children and nursing mothers as well as the elderly. Elderly means anything beyond 50 as their life expectancy rarely goes beyond 55 and most people are not aware of their age.
Some villagers are so grateful for our support that we receive lunch or dinner, which mainly consists of a large bowl of rice with a spicy sauce on top and sometimes a fish or a bit of chicken. Everybody eats with his or her hands out of the same bowl; you may get a spoon if you are lucky. Sometimes we receive donations specifically for rice. During our travels we have come across quite a few “darras” – orphanages – that have even less than nothing. The children sleep on broken, wooden palettes outside with no shelter from the rain, heat or cold and the only food they get is rice, if they get it. A donation of 500 pounds for rice was given for a darra with 60 children. It will last only about 2 months to feed their hungry mouths.
We tend to visit the same villages again but also take new villages onto our agenda if we can manage to get around. Once we have visited a village, we ask them to keep neat records of the effects of the medication. We tend to prescribe for a whole month, giving out 30 pillules to be taken one a day in water. Severe cases receive prescriptions for more than a month. We buy empty plastic bottles at the market, wash and rinse them with fresh water and vinegar to have them refilled with fresh water for plussing the remedies. We try to make sure that the water we fill in the bottles is fresh and clean. As the number of bottles determines the number of patients we can see, as soon as it becomes obvious that we are starting to run out of bottles, dirty new bottles start appearing from nowhere. People are desperate. We once had someone handing us a seemingly clean bottle with fresh water, but we could see flukes swimming in it with our bare eyes.
We take the case, prescribe and prepare the remedies on the spot which are dispensed in the usual small plastic bags. The person responsible in the village receives all the small plastic bags with the remedies, labelled with patients names. They then distribute one pill a day to everyone who comes to collect it with their fresh water bottle, Some people have never owned a bottle, let alone know how to drink out of it. As long as the villagers keep good records, for us to see how the prescriptions helped their people, we will visit them again. Some of their handwritten notes are tidier than an excel spread sheet. Our team then collates the notes electronically in order to follow up on cases. We can then analyse remedy reaction and have anecdotal evidence of the difference we have made in those people’s lives.
Our remedies a pre-prepared; they are medicated with the combination of twelve tissue salts as well as China 30. Our latest collated research about all the symptoms people report, ailments, generals and physicals seem to sum up the underlying remedy: China.
CHINA OFFICINALIS and The Gambia
Most of the symptoms are related or linked to malaria –the China off. remedy picture:
- Failure to thrive – in babies and children, emaciation.
- Tympanic abdomen – most likely due to liver and spleen being swollen.
- Abdominal colic– mainly with hunger.
- Parasitic infections, worms.
- Strangulated hernia (Non-malarial symptombut predominant occurrence).
Indications to identify symptoms of a strangulated hernia:
1. Indigestion – people with large hiatal hernias may experience symptoms that are similar to indigestion. When the hernia becomes strangulated, the protruding part of stomach becomes twisted and blood supply to that area of body is cut off. The sufferer may burp more than normal and have heartburn after eating.
2. Severe chest pain – one of the symptoms separating a regular hiatal hernia from a strangulated hernia is the severity of chest pains a person experiences. Some people who have larger hiatal hernias may feel some mild discomfort in their chests. Very serious chest pain can be a sign that a hernia is strangulated.
3. Signs of anaemia – in rare cases, a strangulated hiatal hernia can bleed; blood may be found in stool and will cause anaemia.
Additional symptoms compared to other remedies:
- Fear of dogs and animals at night (compare: Stramonium)
- Worse increase of moon (“going crazy during moon”)
- Headaches: bursting, congestive, from top of the skull and throbbing pain
- Skin, dermatitis, very dry, ulcerated, psoriasis
- Diarrhoea and dysentery
- Impotence (“I cannot get married every night anymore”), increased sexual desire
- Vertigo, falls backwards, worse lying, after loss of vital fluids
- Tongue, yellow coated and cracked
- Fever, haemorrhage, gastro-enteric symptoms (compare: Ipecac)
- Yellow sclera, scalding lachrymation, eyes sensitive to bright light
- Spasmodic cough from irritation in larynx (possibly from dust and particularly in the cold season)
- Pneumonia, asthma
- Liver symptoms
- Quick satiety – weight after eating small quantities (compare: Lycopodium)
- Bedwetting of weakly children
- Pressure in bladder: frequent and ineffectual urination
o Seen in in children and elderly, worse night (compare:Sabal serrulata)
- Complete loss of appetite and cachexia – direct relation to Malaria
- Bitter taste of water and food
- General body pain: pains in limbs and joints
- Teeth decay, looseness of teeth, pain (with various modalities), “black coating of teeth covered with dark sordes*” and “painful numbness and pulsating pain”
- Pain inter-scapular spine
o Intolerable pain lumbar region
o Lumbago worse motion (compare: Bryonia)
o Sharp pain spine and shoulders
o Pain in chest between scapulae
Hahnemann described China: “Hard and distended abdomen the swelling of the hypochondrium, see how his stomach is oppressed and pained by everything he eats, how his appetite is diminished, how his taste is altered, how loose his bowels are, how his sleep is restless and full of dreams.”
*Definition: A dark brown or blackish crust-like deposit on the lips, teeth, and gums of a person with dehydration resulting from a chronic debilitating disease (from: Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers 2007).
Modalities accompanying people’s complaints
- Better from hard pressure
- Better bending down/over
- Worse after eating
- Worse at night
- Worse loss of vital fluids
By Natasa Peric, volunteer January 2013
Encounters and ailments
We see a vast amount of skin ailments as well as general body pain from the hard work on the fields, and various accidents that have not been treated correctly.
As previously said, we encounter a lot of malaria, the main underlying cause of a lot of conditions that become chronic. The Gambians tend to be very scared of the big “M” which is only called “the fevers” as it can be lethal when the immune system is low. People are not protected, as there are no mosquito nets, let alone money for sprays or vaccinations. The same applies to parasites. Treatment is hardly available and for most people unaffordable; hence the widespread infestation. Poly-parasitic infections are predominant in children and we are planning a research study on de-worming with homeopathy in the near future. Once our clinic is up and running, we intend to run a double-blind random controlled trial over a six month period amongst children in a chosen village. We have collected data about the various worm infections that we can use as a starting point.
One of the main complaints in elderly people is cataract. The sun, the dust and lack of good nutrition lead inevitably to this condition in most people over the age of 50. Teeth decay and stomach problems tend to be chronic and are also due to a very limited diet and mostly lack of hygiene, as there is no running water in most villages. The women walk very far to collect water from the closest wells, but there is never a running tap to wash your hands during the day; the toilets are a hole in the ground, fenced off by either bricks or corrugated iron. The villages do not have electricity and the rainy storms may wash the houses away.
Some Cases – acute and chronic
We are always taken aback by how detailed the comments are that we are given as feedback upon our return. So many people seem to find relief of their long-standing conditions. Cases range from chronic perspiration, pain, and unhealed skin pathology to depression and epilepsy that we have successfully treated. Sometimes we can see how well homeopathy works in acute conditions.
We once arrived at a village where a child had accidentally swallowed some bleach or some similar detergent. We immediately prescribed Sulphur 30C to give to the child frequently. On our next visit, the parents came to see us to specifically thank us for saving their child’s life.
On another visit, we arrived at a very remote orphanage, a caretaker holding a child with burns all over his body. He was clearly in shock and when we asked what had happened, they said that he had fallen in to the boiling porridge, which they cook on an open fire. We prescribed Opium 200C and a combination of burn remedies and applied HyperCal spray topically. The child remained on the woman’s lap for the entire time we were there and we could see his facial features softening, the shock clearly resolving. He also seemed to be in less pain. We left a whole spray bottle for him as well as remedies for his damaged skin.
In the same orphanage, Suarekunde, we saw a boy with extreme psoriasis. (See pictures) We prescribed Natrum Muriaticum 30C and left enough supply for three months. On our follow up visit, his arms were more than 50% better and the boy seemed much happier in himself as he volunteered to speak to us and show his arms.
We also come across quite a few snakebites that do not heal. One boy had got bitten on his face during sleep. His eyes were bloodshot, the whole face scarred and he was extremely sad as he was unable to go to school. We prescribed Lachesis30C and we hardly recognised him on our next visit. His face was still scarred, but his eyes much better and he was playing with the other children. When we were leaving, he came to our van and asked us whether we may be able to give him a bicycle, as now he can go to school, but it is too far to walk. Even though this is not our core competence, we did sponsor the 20 pounds for his bike. On our next visit, he was really happy; he did not want any medicine from us but came to thank us for changing his life.
Rape and Stroke
Another day we were presented with a 16-year old pregnant girl who had just had a stroke and became mute. Upon taking the case we learnt that she was pregnant due to a rape and when she saw her attacker again, she suffered a stroke. She was very distant and not looking at us. We prescribed Narayani Shock Mix 26 and Staphysagria 200C as we could hardly get any details of her story – hoping that the pregnancy would go fine. The next time we saw her, she was smiling very happily, holding her new-born, which she was breastfeeding. Upon asking our questions, she even managed to reply with single words, slightly stuttering. Sadly, her circumstances had deteriorated as she gave birth to a “bastard” and was therefore ousted by her family and had to live on the streets begging for food. But she seemed happy and her health was improving. The attacker has been found and will be prosecuted. His name will be on the birth certificate so that the child has an official father and the girl can return to her family.
The Chief of Police whom we met during one of our ferry crossings during “National Cleaning Day” , had been suffering from chronic dysentery for three years and was extremely miserable. The prescription given was China 30C and Phosphorus 30C daily. When we met him again on our return visit, he said that he was fully cured after only a month of treatment.
We had a young girl as a translator who was belching every ten seconds; not only for her but also for us it was difficult to concentrate. We gave her the Narayani Sufi Mix 29 on the spot and by the end of our three-hour session, we only heard the now very familiar noise less than every five minutes.
A woman, married for five years suffered from infertility. A combination of Sepia 30C and Agnus Castus 3X daily for one month was administered. We met her again on our last visit; she was holding a baby boy. The baby boy was born with a cleft lip and we helped her organise transport to the hospital where the surgery is performed free of charge in The Gambia.
Fear of white “witch doctors”
Some children, when they see us for the first time, are afraid of us, as they have never seen a white person. One girl was so distraught by our presence that she did not stop screaming and was clinging to her mother. We gave her Pulsatilla 200C on the spot and within minutes she stopped crying, and even smiled into my camera
We also see cases where we are at our limits. A 3-year-old girl suffering from severe hydrocephalus did not seem to show any improvement at our second visit to her house. She needs urgent surgery, which cannot be done in The Gambia. A lot of people show us doctor’s certificates, stating that they or their child cannot be helped there but need transferral to another country with more skilled doctors to perform the adequate surgery.
Also, due to the language constraints, it is sometimes difficult to get precise symptoms, a timeline or even a description of what is going on, let alone a clear aetiology. For us it is often a trade off of trying to get to the simillimum and to keep asking more and more questions whilst not getting very detailed answers, or to shorten the case taking and use poly-pharmacy prescriptions and Narayani remedies. We have seen Narayani remedies doing a wonderful job in numerous conditions, and if we cannot get to the bottom of the case, especially since we hardly ever hear about a precise aetiology, we are grateful for this set of over 400 remedies. Also, we have learned – due to the lack of words – to observe, to observe very closely and to provoke actions and reactions in order to determine remedies.
During the case taking and the little time we can spend with each person, it is fascinating how, with a simple gesture, you can differentiate between the upcoming remedies. People are less “polluted”, less influenced by environmental stress and busy lifestyles. As they cannot access medication easily, they appear to be less drugged, remedy pictures become much clearer in their features and habitus. Additionally, we can see themes in villages, especially miasmatic tendencies are very pronounced – and striking for us to witness.
The clinic project – a permanent base
One of the villages that we had visited on our very first trip is called Manduarr. They are our first point of contact when we come back to The Gambia. Their gratefulness for our support has resulted in a donation of a patch of land by the eldest of the village. This land belongs to us and we have started cultivating it. The heavy rains meant that the bush had grown more than 8ft high and we needed to clear the land before we could build our clinic. Firstly we build a fence, i.e. a brick wall to claim possession of the land. Secondly we needed to tap into their boor hole in order to get running water on the land to operate our clinic with clean water and wash facilities.
The money for these vital steps has been raised through some fundraising activities and other donations. We are very happy that a female team has managed to get these steps done. We are now getting quotes for the construction of the actual clinic building, which needs to be on solid ground with solid brickwork to avoid erosion during the torrential rains. We intend to have three treatment rooms, large storage for books, remedies, chairs and training material as well as a basic shower and toilets to enable volunteers to stay on site for longer. This will enable us to hold training courses, continuous treatment and more acute support for the local community.
Manduarr itself has no electricity, so we would have to cater for this by solar power. The community encompasses more than 6000 people in the larger containment of the compound. Our first clinic will be the blueprint for further clinics that we intend to build, primarily on the north bank
We have already started basic training in various villages, leaving remedy stock behind to treat various acute conditions like fever, accidents, skin eruptions, worms, snakebites and burns.
Our next trip is in May – we are planning more fundraising events but are grateful for donations for our clinic building.
We envision a future in which homeopathy will be recognised as an integral part of the Gambian healthcare system. The Bush Homeopaths’ foremost objective is the relief and prevention of disease whilst working in co-operation with local communities. Our vision encompasses making homeopathy available to all communities as an affordable and valid form of health treatment. We aim to offer homeopathic training to the Gambians with help and support through the Centre of Homeopathic Education, the UK’s largest homeopathic college. Our mission is to build and furnish a clinic where we can not only treat more people but also train local Gambians to become qualified homeopaths and eventually run their own clinics. We envision a Gambia with a number of clinics on both shores, supporting the local communities in their quest for health, hygiene, clean water and sustainable living circumstances.