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The Practical Herbalist

Barefoot Doctor

In the 1950's after the Communist Government took over China, a very interesting book was published. It is called "A Barefoot Doctor's Manual". The book is a fascinating read, and it is likely that few books could really compare to it. The Government of China, needed affordable health care in the villages. The result was the "Barefoot Doctor program". The program gave common peasants basic medical training and sent back to the villages and communes to care for the people. This program was seen as very successful in that it brought health care to many who would not otherwise have it, and it did so in a very cost effective way. It did not provide world class medical care, and the program was criticized for that low level of health care.

The Barefoot Doctor program was focused on treating common ailments, basic sanitation and patient advocacy. It was not focussed on turning peasants into doctors. Each Barefoot Doctor was given the basic training and then given a manual to use as a reference. This manual was small in comparison to most medical textbooks. ( The English translation is less than 1000 pages) In this book was all the information a medic would need. The writing and illustrations are very sparse, giving only medical information that would be necessary. The book covers basic trauma first aid, to treating severe infections, how to do simple surgical procedures and childbirth.

The text assumes that the practitioner reading it has little in the way of supplies. So the text is an odd mix of medical practices. It teaches how to prescribe some western medical drugs, along with common folk remedies, acupuncture and how to prepare locally grown medicinal herbs. There are diagrams of how to build a stretcher out of common items, and how to use a patient's clothes to immobilize injured limbs. Almost half the book is dedicated to finding and utilizing locally grown medicinal herbs. The book focuses on what will work and what is practical. The result is a medical text that in some ways is totally inadequate in it's ability to teach proper medical practice. This book did however provided a way to bring practical lifesaving medicine to a very large population. In the end, the book is a fascinating read, and an example of one of the few situations of true large scale integrative medicine.


David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066