PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Public understandings of health and disease in modern India

AARATHI Prasad  

This is a proposal for an oral presentation (or a panel discussion) that explores themes arising from 'Indian Medicine', a book I am writing (publication date March 31, 2016, publisher Profile/Hachette) that will accompany a programme of Wellcome Collection exhibitions and activity exploring India's rich plurality of cultures of medicine, healing and well-being in Indian cities in 2016 and in the UK in 2017. India defies definition, and the story of medicine in India is similarly rich and complex: shaped by unique challenges and opportunities, uniting cutting-edge technological developments with ancient cultural traditions, fuelled by political changes which transformed the lives of millions, and moulded by the energy of forceful individual philanthropists and innovators. In a country where health services are badly underfunded by the government (nearly ten times less than Afghanistan), with huge socio-economic discrepancies and a great variety of pluralistic systems (modern, traditional, and quacks), how is health research and medical science communicated to a public of 1.2 billion people? How can hard-pressed researchers influence policy? How do people choose to approach their health - and why? And in the pursuit of better health, does evidence even matter? In this book I have investigated how Indian medicine came to be the way it is. My travels took me to bonesetter clinics in Hyderabad and the waiting-rooms of Bollywood's best plastic surgeons, and introduced me to traditional healers as well as the world-beating Indian heart surgeon who is revolutionising treatment around the globe. From the asthma 'cure' that involves swallowing live fish, to mental health initiatives in Mumbai's Dharavi mega-slum and ground-breaking neuroscience happening inside the Mughal walls of old Delhi, I tell the story of the Indian people, in sickness and in health, and provide an ethnographic perspective on the most diverse and fascinating country in the world.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.