We want to make Osteopathy the first line of healthcare in Pakistan

Published in The Friday Times, Pakistan’s First Independent Weekly Paper, July 22-28, 2011 – Vol. XXIII, No. 23

Sylvie Erb is a co-founder of Osteopathy Without Borders and leads humanitarian osteopathic  missions to remote places in the Northern Areas every year. TFT talked to her about her organisation’s plans in Pakistan.

The Friday Times: What is Osteopathy? Tell us about its philosophy and scope.

Sylvie Erb: Osteopathy is a complementary medical practice that began in the US in the late 19th century. It looks for the cause of disease in the mechanics of the body at the tissue level. The human body is a unit, and all its systems are interrelated. An improvement in the mobility and function of one system leads to an improvement in the function of the other. The body has the ability to heal itself.

A wide range of medical conditions are responsive to osteopathic treatment, from Hepatitis and chronic liver diseases, to depression and ADD. Osteopathy is especially effective for orthopedic problems and children’s developmental issues. Since it balances all the systems of the body, its side effects are beneficial. While it resolves certain problems, it prevents others.

“Osteopathy is cheap and requires no equipment.”

TFT: What brought you to Pakistan?

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Osteopaths tend to focus on the neuro-musculoskeletal system
Osteopaths tend to focus on the neuro-musculoskeletal system
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SE: I came to Pakistan in 2005 for hiking in Karakoram, Baltistan and Hunza, and met Aleema Khan, who is on the board of several charities. She was impressed with osteopathic treatment after a first-hand experience. But I had no intention of coming back.

After the earthquake in October that year, I changed my mind. There was an immense need for medical help. Osteopathy is very effective against trauma and can help release the impact of stress.

I first came back in February 2006 but soon realised one person would not be enough. The Osteopathy school in Canada that I graduated from had already sent volunteers to Peru. So I asked volunteers in Canada to visit Pakistan in groups of three or four.

For the last five years, our team has worked in the remote mountains of Northern Areas for one week and at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Lahore for another.

TFT: What are your long-term plans here?

SE: Pakistan cannot afford allopathic medicine. The cost of building hospitals and healthcare centres in its rural areas, buying medicine and equipment, and training and deploying doctors adds up to billions of dollars. There are too many people without access to healthcare and too little money. Osteopathy is cheap and requires no equipment. Our long-term plan is to make it the first line of treatment in Pakistan, especially in the rural areas, so that people don’t have to travel to doctors unless there is a serious need.

We plan to achieve that in three phases. In the first phase that began in 2007, we raised funds, mostly from my patients in New York City, to train two Pakistani osteopaths. In the second phase, we will bring teachers from around the world to Lahore. The two trained local osteopaths will assist them in training a whole class. Eventually, in the third phase, it will be possible for local teachers to train local osteopaths in local universities at local costs.

“Osteopathy is especially effective for orthopedic problems

and children’s developmental issues”

TFT: When Osteopathy is institutionalised, is it likely to face the same problems as Allopathy? How hopeful are you of achieving your goal?

SE: The major problem allopathic healthcare faces is a shortage of funds. Osteopathy is different. You don’t need money to set up a clinic or office, or buy expensive equipment and medicine. Training is not very expensive either. It is a viable career for people in the rural areas. They will not have to depend on urban-based doctors to visit them or travel to cities for basic healthcare.

I must clarify I am not saying we do not need medical technology. There are certain conditions for which people will have to see a doctor. For all others, osteopathy is low-cost and effective. It is however only a complementary medical practice.

TFT: What kind of response have you received so far?

SE: The kind you would expect from patients who get personal attention and free treatment – extremely positive. Unlike allopathic doctors, osteopaths spend time with their patients and that makes them feel very good. Especially in the remote areas where there is a shortage of allopathic doctors. Osteopathic treatment also has an immediate relaxing effect and that alleviates any concerns people might have. The locals have had no issues with us being foreigners. When people need help, they take it.

The response of doctors has also been very positive. In the west, doctors are more suspicious of alternative medical practices. Most doctors in Pakistan are overworked and have been very happy with our help.

The government also seems wiling to support us. They approve of the idea of a natural form of healthcare because it is low-cost. They do not have enough funds to expand the outreach of allopathic healthcare.

“Most doctors in Pakistan are overworked and have been very happy with our help.”

TFT: A lot of readers would want to know how they can help and contribute to your effort.

SE: We encourage doctors and physiotherapists to apply for training as osteopaths, and we are hoping that the government will help us by recognising Osteopathy as a profession.

But most of all, we would want people to help us by making donations. The beauty of this project is that donations are only required for the short-term initial training. This will be seed money to help the project grow organically and become sustainable in the long run.

Donations can be made on our website or through the Imran Khan Foundation.

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