Barefoot doctors by Eduardo Beltran

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Money can buy almost anything and health has become a commodity too which is for sale at a cost that most of the time is not affordable by common people.  In western world health care is becoming a huge business where patients are just customers. But what happens with those who are not wealthy, or even rich enough to pay whatever modern medicine is willing to charge for treating your disease?

Even worse, in “developing” countries medicine is a luxury. And in places like Latin America or Africa those who can pay a good healthcare travel to rich countries or pay luxurious hospitals, but those who can’t afford that don´t get the most basic attention.

This is a social problem which is growing like an epidemic disease.

But there are solutions all over the world: communities moving back to medicinal plants or traditional techniques in order to relief pain and find cure. There are even social and philosophical movements to improve health by eating correctly in almost every country of the world, although everywhere there is still a long road to go. The World Health Organization recognized traditional medicine in 1978 and ever since some advances have shown.

Here is an example which is worth studying: barefoot doctors.

In a China were medical doctors were not enough to overlook for the immense needs of a huge population, barefoot doctors were a part of the problem which became the solution.

Villagers chosen by their neighbors were sent to study a basic training in acupuncture, preventive medicine and some westerns techniques to provide basic medical assistance in their own towns. By 1960 this medical assistance got to 90% of the Chinese population.

This barefoot doctors were also a part of the community: farmers, laborers, regular people, and divided their time between their regular works and helping their community. They even grew their own medicine plants.

The training for this doctors went from 6 months up to 2 years and usually this barefoot doctors went back to get a medical degree. An essential part of the training is acupuncture, which in China has been used for hundreds of years and is still being practiced not only in Asia, but Europe, Latin America or Australia.

Nowadays the barefoot doctors program does not exist anymore in China, but there are lessons we can still learn from them: anyone with a basic training can provide basic care to their neighbors, it is not necessary to make a full degree to provide medical assistance, and nowhere in the world any other program has trained as many people as the barefoot doctors program has.

What could stop an independent effort to train people in acupuncture, medical plants and basic relief? It is as simple as finding willing people and communities in need, and the world is full of both. Is money an issue? No. Anywhere where a community is healthier the income increases, and this communities can provide the sustained support for those who are willing to help.

There is a lot of information on the web about barefoot doctors and its movement. Health care for all the population of the world is not an impossible dream. It is just a matter of a well directed effort using what is already available as traditional medicine and therapies.


Eduardo Beltran is an acupuncturist doctor practicing in Cuernavaca – Mexico the traditional  Taoist style. He is looking forward to go to China for specializing in this system of medicine. Together with Francisco Menez they opened a practice as a cooperative offering treatments at a social cost and serving twice a week in the local communities.