Disaster Medicine

Note:  Renegaid is developing a new project regarding supplying health clinics in disaster which inspired this post.  I highly recommend you check out Herbalists Without Borders (Projects page) to see how they are supporting projects like this all over the world.

My mother used to give us herbal salves, tinctures and compounds when we were kids.  I remember them all tasting like grass and didn’t really take them seriously- until one serious infection in my 20s.  I had been testing water quality in one of the most impaired waterways in Missouri, Asher Creek.  In the course of wading around in the creek- I developed a painful and growing infection on my legs.  I went to a few clinics and had more than a few prescriptions for antibiotics- pills and creams- that all failed to halt the spread of the infection.  It turned out to be an anti-biotic resistant strain of pseudomonas.

I was losing sleep over this infection- it had this spiky pain anytime I brushed the skin, and a bone-deep ache as well.  It started to spread in little painful pimples in my shoulders and back.  I was out of options and expressed this to my mom one day over lunch.  Afterwards she ran me over to a healthfood store and shelled out some serious cash for a little jar of this herbal salve.  Where 6 months modern medicine failed- two weeks of this little jar kicked my immune system into high gear and I had the infection knocked out.

I’m not saying that the stuff is a cure-all. Or that all of modern medicine is overhyped.  Just that there is a balance between these styles of medicine that is not acknowledged.  Just as the shortcomings of medical trials which justify many new medicines are not widely covered as well.

SO what does any of this have to do with disasters?   A number of reasons:

  • In a community in crisis, personal health takes a backseat to other priorities- and pharmacies may be out of commission anyway.
  • This is a major time of illness and health hazards. Toxins such as black mold or asbestos emerging in the environment , and persisting through the weeks and months afterwards, when people are gutting their houses.
  • Many immigrant populations look for healing outside of conventional hospitals already- this helps create access for them.
  • Many vulnerable populations can’t afford Big Pharma rates

This was our experience in NOLA, actually.  From the  Common Ground Collective Health Clinic website:

The Common Ground Health Clinic started on September 9 , 2005 just days after hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. (..) The clinic started as a first aid station with the arrival of “Street Medics”, which are first responders that gained notoriety through mass mobilizations of the anti-globalization movement. The clinic was originally set up in a mosque, with space being generously donated by the Masjid Bilal.

Nurses, physicians, herbalists, acupuncturists, EMTs social workers and community activists came from around the world to volunteer at Common Ground Health Clinic. Since its inception, the clinic has served more than 60,000 patient visits – all at no charge to the patient. (link)

I saw the same medicine being used in that clinic when I spent time with Common Ground in 2006.  It helped me detox several months worth of the “Katrina cough-” something all the the residents and volunteers got, supposedly from all of the mold in the air. And 12 years later, that Health Clinic is going strong- serving the same residents.  The unique toxins stirred up by floods and hurricanes may have their counterparts in herbal medicine.  Any disaster recovery organizations dedicated to mutual aid should consider it as a part of the larger medic’s toolkit.

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