Monday, 29 July 2013

Al Jazeera | Bloodletting In Delhi

Photo © Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera-All Rights Reserved

"My family has been practicing this for generations and this is a gift of God."

One of medicine’s oldest practices is bloodletting, and is thought to have originated in ancient Egypt several thousands of years ago. Spreading to to Greece, it was believed that all illnesses stemmed from an overabundance of blood in the patients' bodies. In medieval Europe, bloodletting became the standard treatment for various conditions, from plague and smallpox to epilepsy and gout.

It still is a therapy for a very small number of conditions, and the use of leeches has experienced a revival in the field of microsurgery. It is still commonly used for a wide variety of conditions in the Unani, Ayurvedic, and traditional Chinese systems of alternative medicine.

Al Jazeera has featured a photo essay by photographer Showkat Shafi of practitioners in Old Delhi still practicing this 3000 year-old bloodletting process. These practitioners are of the Unani school (a form of traditional medicine used by some South Asian Muslims), known as Hakim. (See an earliest post with my photographs of a Kashmiri Unani hakim here).

The photo essay shows a Hakim tying the hands or legs of patients with cloths, and making small incisions with a razor blade to allow blood to trickle out of the body, following this ancient medical practice. These practitioners claim they do not charge money for the 'treatment' as they would lose the power to heal if they did so.

The Al Jazeera report mentions that this particular clinic opens at 9am and treats about 40 patients a day. New razor blades are used, and although Delhi has world-class hospitals, people still queue at this open-air clinic to be treated for various ailments through the process of bloodletting.