Sri Lanka faced epidemics with traditional medicines – Dr. Danister Perera | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka faced epidemics with traditional medicines – Dr. Danister Perera

29 August, 2021

Following is an interview with Ayurvedic expert, Cultural Anthropologist and Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) specialist Dr. Danister Perera in the backdrop of the health challenges the world is facing.

Q: Vaccination as it stands in the modern era is seen as a superior Western method bequeathed to the world. Could you explain the Eastern system of immunity boosting?

A: To get to the crux of this answer, let me first explain the original foundation of Ayurveda. Ayurveda originated thousands of years ago from the minds of spiritually advanced intellectuals or sages who were dealing with nature’s power and laws of the universe.

Dr. Danister Perera

The ancient science of Ayurveda was not born out of knowledge as we know it now in this modern age through memorised education but universal knowledge. All ancestral wisdom founders of Ayurveda were the people who had connected to the universe to the highest level with their mind so that there was only one mind – the universal mind.

We can call this universe based science. We have the original foundation of Ayurveda which later evolved – for example, Ayurveda doctors do not now meditate in jungles for years and years to develop the perfect mind but they study in an university what all these sages discovered.

Some Allopathy professionals still believe the ancient science of Ayurveda has to be ‘tested’ through the Western science method although we all know that Western medical researchers of the 19th century started researching/testing Ayurveda cures and found them to be perfect.

Now to get to answering about vaccines the way our traditional system understood it. Ayurveda is a medical science that describes the concept of immunity or Vyadhikshamatva as a body’s natural ability to resist diseases. This was explained and defined clearly in the science of Ayurveda long before it was cited in Western medicine. Innate immunity, inherited by the birth is known as sahaja bala or inborn power to mitigate certain diseases by adjusting the intrinsic biological functions.

It also includes the immunity gained throughout the life by improving the capability of the immune system as the person’s body deals with disease conditions. Ojas is the most important biological essence involved in this vital power that keeps the body’s alertness and responsiveness.

Main textbooks and commentaries of Ayurveda have included a theory known as yuktikrita kshamata or acquired immunity that is purposely produced by foods and medicines.

This is a rational manner to fortify the body’s vital tolerant power by introducing certain potent foods and medicines. In modern medicine, vaccines are administered through oral, parenteral and nasal routes to produce immunisation against specific disease.

Vaccines are also a kind of prophylactic agents belonging to the preventive medicine described in Ayurveda. But in Ayurveda, immunisation is a person-specific process covered by temporal and spatial dimensions to assure the protection based on multifactorial salutogenesis. It means that immunity is an ultimate gain of balance of biological humours in a healthy state produced by different factors.

Q: We, today, have Sinhala wedakam scientist and physician Laxman J. Embuldeniya who has developed an oral vaccine (connected with his previous work for Dengu) to immunise the human body against Covid. It is now used widely and successfully in major factories in Sri Lanka although not known to the media. Your comments?

A: The fact that vaccination is not only done through injections, but nasal and oral routes is also widely accepted and highly recommended. In modern immunological interventions, nasal and oral vaccines are most effective in mucosal infections.

The oral vaccines or edible vaccines undergo mastication and lead to degradation in the intestine with the action of digestive enzyme to stimulate the immunity against microbes. Also, there are different options to deliver nasal vaccine such as drops, powder, aerosol sprays and the application of nasal gel.

If you go through the whole content of natural immunisation in Ayurveda, you may find many ways of administrating such oral and nasal medicines to improve the immunity. It is a timely need to encourage and promote local indigenous medicine researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs to introduce alternative vaccines based on traditional medical knowledge in the country.

Vaccine delivery systems are important determinants of the effectiveness of vaccination strategies especially in developing countries since there are considerable comparative advantages. Developing countries such as Sri Lanka which have their own history of natural medical science should not be shy or wary of developing their own traditional systems for Covid-19 management and preparedness for future health challenges.

If they are not developing such traditional systems based on their ignorance of their heritage, they should educate themselves.

Q: Could you trace the history of the development of the Western science-based vaccines?

A: The term vaccine is derived from the Latin root vacca. This is a name used for cow. The practice of vaccination originated after English physician Edward Jenner in 1796 injected the cowpox infection to a young boy to test the vaccination efficacy. It is a well-established and uncontested fact that inoculation against smallpox was prevalent in China, India, West Asia and parts of Africa long before it got to Europe.

In ancient India, it was practised annually in rural areas using material from scabs or pustules taken from persons suffering from smallpox and transferred to healthy persons. It is known as inoculation or variolation.

This method of boosting immunity gave them a mild form of the disease while inducing their systems to produce antibodies that conferred immunity against further infection. Jenner’s “arm-to-arm” method of vaccination is originally learned from this oriental tradition of inoculation which very likely has been influenced by Ayurvedic wisdom.

As we all know, most of the advancements through the root of what we describe as ‘modern science’ in medicine have roots in the East and then modified by the West through modern technology and patented later.

We must not forget that current policies the world over is based on global politics connected to the liberal economy. The promotion of all kinds of vaccines with unreliable effectiveness and unpredictable adverse effects, produced by leading multi-national companies is part of this system that has industrialised health. The modern world – the entire globe, extending to ancient civilisations such as Sri Lanka which had exceptional ancient indigenous medical knowledge is today controlled by the pharmaceutical industry for unjustifiable profiteering.

Q: Westerners take several vaccines for ordinary flu for the winter. Your comments?

A: In Ayurveda, we always consider the geographical variations and ecological differences of the individual who can have different levels of immunity at different times due to various factors. The people who live in countries with extreme seasonal fluctuations are not susceptible to some infectious diseases.

Despite the weak immunity produced by modern lifestyle as compared to traditional lifestyle, Sri Lankans still have high levels of natural immunity when compared to foreigners.

The immunity levels of those such as generally under vaccinated Sri Lankans and over vaccinated (flu shots) Westerners cannot be compared. If very regular vaccines are taken as for the common flu of the West (and if Covid-19 vaccines come to this), there is a great danger of debilitating the human body’s natural disease fighting power.

We cannot compare our immunity and that of the West whose diet is of extremely inferior quality in natural diversity. The meat based dietary pattern is highly industrialised and the eating farm reared and killed animals affects the immune system negatively. Diet plays a significant role in inducing strong immunity.

In the West, annual vaccines have become a part of their life and mandates of their health as a legal requirement imposed by governments. Most tropical countries were not used to such annual vaccine routines for simple flu-like infections that are easily manageable with traditional medicine.

In a country such as Sri Lanka, common cold caused by a type of corona virus is not a big deal, but can be cured by home remedies as done for thousands of years throughout the history. The danger is the other diseases in a person that make the Corona virus deadly.

In our Sri Lankan heritage, village practitioners were the key drivers of controlling situations of epidemics. People believed in their rational advice based on cultural wisdom. From the beginning of the 19th century, Western science based medicine was introduced to the tropics when Western doctors charged with the medical care of colonists first encountered infectious diseases unknown in the temperate European climate.

But in the post-colonial era, Tropical Medicine (the study of the world’s key tropical diseases) became a soft device of medical imperialism to control the bodies of citizens of colonial states though health interventions such as vaccination.

We must not forget that introducing annual vaccine program for Covid-19 is the big picture behind the global plan of trialing out the unprotected and unsafe vaccines on human beings. A lot of educative information on this is emerging internationally as the highest level of scientists who are experts in vaccines are speaking out.

We all have a common question of vaccination; the people who have got Covid-19 and having antibodies as similarly induced by the vaccine. If we look at our context, we can appreciate that the Government is taking one route – as routed through Western science to inoculate our citizens against Covid-19, but we have to be reminded that we have our own routes as practised in our civilisation. It is a lethal mistake to ignore this when our nation needs it most.

We cannot blindly worship Western science. Western science is still evolving. There is no evidence to believe that vaccine-induced antibodies are superior to natural infection-induced antibodies. We all are becoming victims of an unprecedented global scale human trial on vaccines approved with “emergency use authorisation” guided by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Q: Singapore two months ago decided to declare Covid-19 as a normal flu and to take basic precautions as one would do with any other flu-like disease. Your views?

A: This is a wise decision by an efficient set of leaders who delve deep into a problem to think out their own solutions. When you look at the recovery rate and the fatality rate, it is not more than the common flu but with some exclusion on risk groups.

Viral infections are not new to the traditional medical system that managed the health of the nation before the colonial period. We apply the host-directed approach in our therapeutic interventions which aim for the natural immunity of the person to facilitate the human system to function with higher tolerance.

Most of the virulent epidemics are also managed with traditional quarantine and isolation methods based on cultural practices evolved from traditional medicine. If society is undergoing an outbreak of viral infections, the body has an ability to develop natural herd immunity against that pathogen.

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. Now none of these vaccines assures a total protection against the infection. The number of people who get infected after two doses is increasing day by day.

In such a context, a nation such as ours which was considered an ancient medical hub can handle this situation using our own mind, provided we know our medical history.

Singapore, which has no traditional medical system such as ours to fight Covid-19, nevertheless, has realised the futility of following the lockdown paranoia based method. There are many other countries that have taken independent decisions such as these based on their own knowledge, expertise and commitment to self-sufficiency.

Hence, we expect in Sri Lanka for this situation to be managed naturally with traditional interventions. Policymakers of this country have to realise that this is more viable and beneficial to the nation.

We need to look at the eco-epidemiological factors of the countries with least number of cases per million and deaths as found in Bhutan, Laos, Sudan, Mali, Tanzania, Samoa, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Brunei, Malawi, Gambia, Ghana, Vietnam and Cameroon.

Q: Could you speak of the role the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the current global situation?

A: The answer to this question is based on the overall system which controls us today according to the geopolitical agenda. The WHO in this pandemic tries its best to control it based on Western knowledge and modern medicine as advised by their experts.

However, from 1978, the WHO has guided the member countries to develop health policies to accommodate traditional medicine into their national health framework and utilise them for the benefit of the public. The WHO encourages the integrated approach in research and clinical interventions to keep the health services more efficient and affordable.

In this context, the WHO has no right to force the countries with traditional medical heritage to blindly follow all the Western regimes to manage Covid-19. In China, there is a viable example where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is used with a high priority to treat Covid patients and eventually harnessed successful results. The WHO should look at the potential of traditional medicine in this situation without standing on the conventional colonial grounds.

Q: What is the impact of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) when confronted with immunity impairing diseases such as Covid-19?

A: This is critically important in the context of Covid-19 which has a big negative impact with NCDs and associated conditions managed by high medications.

Most people, nowadays, are suffering from autoimmune diseases and multiple conditions with anonymous syndromes as a result of lifestyle errors.

From the beginning of the pandemic, it was uncontested that the spread of Covid-19 is heightened by the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem degradation caused by human manipulation on nature.

Although the environment is an integral part of human health, (that purifies air and provides oxygen), it was threatened by the modern lifestyle and development interventions due to misappropriated land use and human settlements.

This ecological dimension of health is neglected for centuries with industrial and green revolutions that led to a society under the influence of genetically modified food system and poisonous medicine to destroy symbiosis in human body and ecosystem. The WHO watched all this.Ultimately, now we have sick people and drugged society with collapsing immune systems. Stress and lack of spiritual harmony are also contributive factors to weak immunity that can cause lifestyle disorders across the world due to the modern cultural transition.

Q: You agree that spiritual connection through methods such as meditation and aspects such as peace of mind and love for humanity has a positive impact on health?

A: Yes. I agree that the spiritual aspect of health can improve the immunity as discovered by many scientific researches. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a new discipline that describes how the pathway of the mind can influence the immune system through all kinds of Eastern spiritual practices which can be proven for their efficacy. Therefore, all forms of psychological and spiritual support should be routinely implemented to enhance immunity against Covid-19.

The global Mindfulness Meditation Apps Market was valued at $ 270 million in 2019 and is expected to reach $ 4 billion by 2027, growing at an average growth of 41.01% during 2020-2027.

The Meditation Market is expected to gain market growth of 10.40% and account to $ 9.0 billion by 2027. If the stress is considered as a main driver of collapsing immunity in the current hectic lifestyles people lead, we need to evaluate the calming effects of spirituality/mindfulness/religiosity (depending on the culture of the person).

Spirituality is a more intimate dimension essential for humanity, which contains philosophical, cultural and religious beliefs and practices within it. Sri Lanka with rich cultural heritage embedded in spiritual essence, can contribute much to mitigate the adverse mental and physical influences during the pandemic.

Q: Bill Gates had, several years ago, predicted bio-weapon based diseases and the need for investment on vaccines. Your comments?

A: The modern pharmaceutical industry is a highly profitable business that makes money out of human suffering. It is explicitly shown in the political and financial power of the pharmaceutical industry in the world economy and the way they influence Governments. The revenue of pharma is all sadly predictable to reach a potential of $150 billion from 2021-2022 as estimated (and between 10 and 25 times more profitable than narcotics trafficking). Scientists around the world warn that antimicrobial resistance is the next great health crisis.

Ten million deaths are estimated by 2050 if no action is taken. As a result of the antibiotic resistance, many large pharmaceutical firms have dropped out of the market in favour of pursuing profitable lines of drug development.

A 2017 estimate puts the cost of developing an antibiotic at around US$1.5 billion and the average revenue generated from an antibiotic’s sale is roughly $46 million per year.

Market growth is driven by the global prevalence of infectious diseases and the onset of Covid-19. The global infectious disease diagnostics market size is projected to reach USD 39.8 billion by 2026 from USD 28.1 billion in 2021, at an average growth rate of 7.2 percent.

In the first scenario, Covid-19 vaccines will be required annually for the high-risk population, 65 years and older, while everyone below 65 years of age will need a vaccine only every two years. With this, Covid-19 vaccine market set to reach $ 19.5 billion by 2026 and antibiotic market will be slowly shifted to the Covid vaccine market. Creating new diseases before the medicine is profitable in the pharma industry.

Q: There are some other mysterious diseases surfacing around the world, beginning with US early this year which reported brain eating amoeba that originates from water and the reason given was climate change. Could you comment on Sri Lanka’s ability to quell such diseases?

A: We are capable of handling any kind of epidemic – however dangerous it may seem - with our own traditional medicine as we did in the past. But long years of colonisation have broken our connection with the basic knowledge of our traditional medical science. This has to be immediately corrected if we are to retain even a vestige of self-respect as a nation in how we face new-fangled diseases.

Even with all the so called scientific knowledge and advanced facilities, modern medicine could not control this pandemic. They had to accept that there is no cure for this. Western science only knows to fight with antibiotics as magic bullets against bacteria. Re-emerging vector borne diseases and emerging zoonotic viruses are more prevalent in modern societies due to unwholesome practices against nature. But Sri Lanka’s unique traditional lifestyles and intangible cultural heritage that support the symbiotic interconnection with the ecosystem is a plus point we have to enrich among the new generation to prevent this kind of pandemics.

If we can popularise traditional remedies and improve the credibility of our own belief system to mitigate health hazards, it will save our economy from having a vaccine based crash.

Q: Is Covid-19 the only pandemic Sri Lanka has faced in our history?

A: In the history, we have faced several epidemics as recorded in our chronicles by the name of upasagga roga which means contagious disease. There were some diseases such as yaws that is called parangi because it was introduced by the Portuguese.

During the colonial period, our country was a central point of voyages which was always susceptible to foreign diseases. Having faced the experience of infectious diseases being introduced by foreigners in the past, currently also we need to face the same problem in a different way. In the past, shiploads of foreigners came to invade us in military uniforms, but today they come in other means including ideology.

Even in Covid, we already got not only the original virus but also the variants from India and England too. For the preparation of most medicines used for acute case management, cannabis and opium with potent plant and metallic ingredients are used.

An array of literature is available on this. Much has been written in the past on cannabis as potential treatments for Covid-19. USA researchers showed that a cannabis compound inhibited Covid viral infection in human lung cells. But unfortunately we are now under legal restrictions for using cannabis even for medicinal purposes.