Villagers in rural India stage anti-superstition march after boy dies from untreated appendicitis

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 31 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1281
  1. Sanjeet Bagcchi
  1. 1Kolkata

An anti-superstition health drive has been launched in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh after a schoolboy died from appendicitis. His parents were said to have pursued a “supernatural” cure instead of seeking qualified medical help. The Catholic News Agency reported the incident on 27 January, which sparked a backlash against superstition across India.

The boy was a primary school student in Lazu, a village in the state’s Miao diocese. His appendicitis was diagnosed during a regular school health check-up before the Christmas holiday. The school’s principal urged the boy’s parents to seek treatment at a hospital during the holiday, but the parents sought a supernatural cure instead. Eventually their son died of a ruptured appendix.1

Bishop George Pallipparambil of the Miao diocese told the BMJ, “In the case of this boy it is superstition [and] negligence that caused the death.” He added, “No medical attention was given. A timely action could have saved this boy.”

Healthcare facilities in Lazu were seriously lacking, said Pallipparambil. He said that the nearest hospital was about 180 km from the village, with a bad road and no means of transport, and that the family was poor and could not afford the medical expenses for surgery.

Pallipparambil thought that these factors influenced the villagers’ reliance on supernatural or miraculous cures involving rituals instead of medical treatment. “If the sickness is severe, any person in these remote areas can die just like that boy,” he added.

However, after the boy’s death, the Miao diocese initiated a health and anti-superstition programme in Lazu, to spread awareness among the population. Pallipparambil said, “In the anti-superstition health drive, the health commission of the diocese of Miao . . . [organised] a rally in which all the villagers in Lazu took part. The health team spoke to them about various sicknesses that plague that place [and] their causes and prevention, insisting on the fact that superstition does not cure a person but it kills.”

The Catholic News Agency’s report said, “On Jan. 17, more than 500 students and faithful of the diocese participated in the medical awareness program. A ‘Say no to superstition’ march was held, with participants holding banners with the slogan, as well as ‘Health is our right,’ ‘Go to the doctor when you are sick,’ and ‘Right medicine at the right time.’ The banners were written in India’s official languages, Hindi and English, as well as the local language Ollo.”

Arnab Sengupta, president of the Kolkata based organisation People’s Right to Health and Education, said, “An anti-superstition campaign is always a welcome move in a country like India, where people—particularly in rural areas—become the victims of superstitions due to a lack of medical facilities.”

He told the BMJ, “To prevent this, we need to provide affordable healthcare facilities to people living in the remote rural areas of the country. We also need to strengthen India’s health awareness initiatives to make people understand the necessity of proper medical treatment.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1281


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