Ethnomedical Care and Treatment

Traditional treatments can be divided into those having generally positive effects, those having negative effects, and perhaps those having neutral consequences.

Positive treatment practices include nursing babies and small children as a comfort response. Breast milk is the best resource, especially for preventing dehydration. Human breast milk is relatively high in sodium and sugars, in addition to being a sterile medium containing maternal antibodies and other important nutritional properties.

Household remedies include many plant-based treatments. These usually are administered orally as liquids. This kind of medication would assist in the prevention of dehydration. In recent years, greater attention has been given to the potential efficacy of the preparations themselves, with the result that there is renewed respect for traditional medical knowledge. The use of rice water, for example, for fluid intake during diarrhea is a well-known home remedy. Biomedical practitioners initially reacted negatively to this nutrient-poor fluid. It is now understood that the large molecule starches in rice water are released gradually. This gradual release of starch reduces the risk of worsening the diarrhea through osmotic retention of fluids in the intestine. Many traditional healers encourage healing teas and fluids, sometimes accompanied by specialized prayers and rituals.

The efforts of caregivers to focus on decreasing the output of diarrhea sometimes results in withholding of foods and fluids. There is the danger that a resulting diminished flow of diarrhea is due to dehydration rather than lessening of the disease. This can have serious to fatal results. Purging is a rather common practice for the treatment of diarrhea and carries the potential risk of hastening dehydration. There is always the possibility that folk treatments can have harmful effects, just as biomedical practices are sometimes found to require re-thinking and modification. There is also some risk that traditional therapies may be pursued to the extent that life-saving measures of medical intervention are applied too late or not at all.

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