An ASHA worker blows a whistle to remind the community to use mosquito nets, a few days before the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown was imposed. Photo by Vishnu Prasad.An ASHA worker blows a whistle to remind the community to use mosquito nets, a few days before the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown was imposed. Photo by Vishnu Prasad.

COVID-19 throws light on the need for a revised approach to public health

The cultural practices and traditional healing can either aid or become detrimental to the efforts in tackling the current epidemic. As seen from successful local efforts containing malaria in Bastar, a revised approach in public health that takes into account culture, traditions and imbibed structural inequities in accessing modern medicine can help cap the spread of COVID-19 in an effective manner.

Though no COVID-19 cases have been reported from Bastar, tribal people who are employed at chilli fields along the Godavari valley are returning to their villages, in midst of the lockdown and travelling through the forests, causing worry at various quarters.

“We haven’t received any special advisories from the health department regarding coronavirus, but we are spreading awareness through our network on precautionary measures,” said Nirmal Awasthi, founder of Chhattisgarh Traditional Healers Association, a collective of 3,200 traditional healers across the state.

With 37 cases of people reported with COVID-19 as of April 26, Chhattisgarh has been reliant on over 60,000 Mitanin (women community health workers) to spread awareness across the state. “With lots of panic and confusion doing the rounds over COVID-19, the plans to even coordinate with traditional health practitioners comprehensively is nearly impossible due to the absence of a unified body,” said Prabir Chatterjee, a former senior health official.

With a long-overdue plan for establishing the proposed traditional health board in the state and the failure to forge a formal bond, which could have been an ally in systematically integrating traditional health practitioners into public health systems and bolstering disease monitoring capacity and implementing preventive measures, it sure looks like a lost opportunity,

While the state failed to leverage the opportunity, The University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology (TDU), which offers certification programmes to traditional health practitioners, sprung into action, planning to implement a project on using medicinal plants as a preventive measure in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

“We plan to pilot the project once the severity of the lockdown is over through a network of traditional healers who have been working closely with us,” said Hariramamurthi G., head of Centre for Local Health Traditions and Policy at TDU, reiterating the often underlooked role of traditional health practices in fulfilling the needs of rural communities across the country.

This story was produced in collaboration with Internews and the Earth Journalism Network.


Vidhu, V. V., & Evans, D. A. (2015). Ethnoentomological values of Oecophylla smaragdina (Fabricius). Current Science, 572-579.


Banner image: Sukaldhar Yadav, a traditional healer on his way to collect an ant nest. Chhapra, a paste made from red ants, is a traditional delicacy and medicine in Bastar. Photo by Vishnu Prasad.

Article published by Mayank Aggarwal
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