Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Red-eye and Other Health Issues

Conjunctivitis, pink-eye, or what the Bhutanese call "red-eye" has been making the rounds for the past few weeks. Most locals consider it a sort of “evil eye” which can be passed on by looking at someone who has it. When I wear sunglasses, people sometimes ask me if I have red-eye or if I am trying to avoid catching it. One of the teachers commented that it is more prevalent in the younger classes, because they sit in groups facing each other, whereas the older students have their desks all facing the front of the room. When I realized that even the staff didn’t seem to realize that it is passed on directly by germs, and that it is highly contagious, I decided to address the issue at morning assembly. I hope it helped.

When there are health issues, small or large, people do go to the hospital, but they also have a contingency plan. People either go to the temple for prayers and advice from the lama, or they go to a local healer for treatment. Some of the local treatments are quite severe. For example, my neighbour had been suffering from flu-like symptoms, which were not going away, so she agreed to have a local healer come to the house. She says she didn’t actually agree, but she was too weak to argue with her family about having him come. She said he stunk of alcohol, and made her feel even sicker as he hovered near. The main treatment was to suck the bad blood out of her body through her forehead. She said that he sucked very hard for some time and then spat black blood into a bowl. She says she felt better soon after the treatment. Consequently, when she recently had similar symptoms, she was more willing to have the healer do the same treatment again. Apparently, it didn’t work as effectively this time.

There was a case in the paper recently of a young girl who was brought to the Mongar hospital after undergoing treatment from a local healer. She had stomach problems, so he had made an incision in her abdomen and sucked out the bad blood. Unfortunately the wound got terribly infected, and by the time she was taken to the hospital, it was too late. Sadly, she died.

One of the traffic policeman in Mongar recently had a diabetic seizure. Since he is in a position of power in town, some people believe that he has been stricken by the “evil eye” of those who are unhappy with his power to tell them where to park or not park. A ceremony is being done to avert the “evil eye” which caused this problem.

According to a doctor from Germany who is volunteering at the hospital for a few months, the two biggest health issues in the wards are diabetes and liver damage. I had thought that the high incidence of diabetes would be due to the high sugar consumption here. The main milk is powdered milk which is 19% sugar, according to the package. On top of that, almost everyone adds quite a bit of sugar to their tea. Sweets are very common snacks. I assumed the liver damage would be due to the rather heavy alcohol consumption in eastern Bhutan.

But I learned something interesting which might be a factor in both types of illness. I am aware that there is a lot of MSG in packaged foods everywhere, including some of the most popular snack foods here. Some research on MSG, a.k.a. hydrolyzed vegetable protein, says that its consumption results in overproduction of insulin leading to hunger very soon after eating, and also eventually leading to obesity, diabetes and liver damage. Time for another health talk at morning assembly I think. People eat a lot of waiwai for snacks. This is like Mr. Noodle, but it comes already crushed and seasoned. It is supposed to be banned at my school, but it is eaten “hidingly” by staff and students.

By the way, I have been saving the tiny plastic containers of salt and “tasting powder” which come with the little packets of peanuts which I consume on a regular basis. Apparently I have eaten 65 packets of peanuts since I’ve been here. I’m really craving protein, and peanuts are one of the few sources I trust. I have always reacted very badly to MSG, so I’m not using any of that tasting powder.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ann! Hope all is well. I had the exact same discussion with my classes about both pink-eye and MSG. I basically scared the bejeesus out of them with the MSG lecture. They had never heard of MSG before and I asked them to list the ingredients in Maggi or Waiwai or Koka and they listed all natural vegetable ingredients. So I gave them a bit of an eye-opening lesson on what they were actually eating. I'm not sure if there is a difference in the harmful effects of the tasting powder when eaten on its own or dissolved in water (maybe diluting it helps a tiny bit?) but its eating the noodles as a raw snack the worries me the most.

    Anyway, happy to hear you're dealing with some of the same health issues in metropolitan Mongar, and that it's not just a boonies thing.

    Take care and avoid the evil eye!