Barefoot nursing

Barefoot nursing








When Gandhi’s ten year old son suffered an attack of typhoid, he wrapped the child’s body in a wet cloth and dry blankets despite the patient’s protests. He understood what modern medicine now acknowledges: that the high temperature of a fever prevents a virus from multiplying, and thus contains the outbreak. It took 40 days of consistent care for the illness to pass, and it ended with the complete recovery of the boy.

Gandhi’s approach to medicine was resolutely that of the barefoot doctor: a natural response to the shortage of medicines, and the enormous number of those suffering illnesses in India at that time. When challenged by a supporter on why he took such a personal interest in caring for the sick, and thereby not spending more time on matters of state, he famously said “Who else is to do this? If you go to the village, you will find that of 600 there, 300 are ill.”

Key factors in his treatment of those suffering, were to keep a patient’s mind at peace, the use of proven remedies, and to ensure that the regimen prescribed was followed rigorously. His personal attention to nursing extended to a sense of responsibility for his own health, including meticulous attention to his diet. He was also awarded medals in both the Boer War and Zulu rebellion, for his organization of nursing and tending to the wounded.

Perhaps contemporary health services might take note of Gandhi’s emphasis on compassionate and common sense ministry, when considering the selection and training of frontline medical staff.

© orlando Kimber

Image: Mahatma Gandhi, photographer unknown.

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