Hesperian Health Guides

Healing Toxic Injuries

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 16: Harm from Toxic Chemicals > Healing Toxic Injuries

Toxic chemicals are so widespread that it may seem impossible to be free of them, and to prevent and heal the illnesses they cause. However, people all over the world are developing new treatments for toxic injuries that combine modern medicine with traditional ways of healing.

Sambhavna Clinic

Since the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, thousands of people there live with chronic health problems. These include breathing problems and fevers, and also reproductive problems, loss of vision, cancers, and birth defects in the next generation of children.

Perhaps the greatest lessons from the Bhopal disaster come from the people’s campaigns for health and justice. Sambhavna Clinic was built by survivors of the disaster and other volunteers to provide health care to the whole community. In seeking ways to relieve the severe health problems following the poison gas leak, the health workers discovered new medical treatments, proving that good care and creativity are the keys to healing toxic injuries.

How the clinic runs

The Sambhavna Clinic has treated more than 12,000 people for no charge. Half of the clinic staff are survivors of the Bhopal disaster. The clinic also carries out studies that are helping the world understand the long-term effects of chemicals.

In their own words, these are the guiding principles of Sambhavna clinic:

4 women speak.
Disaster survivors participate in monitoring community health. This is part of
the struggle for memory and against forgetting.
We run our own clinic without corporate charities, large grants from foundations, or government assistance.
People can and should be active participants in their own healing.
We can build hope in a situation of despair through creative and collective action!
Clinic treatments
A woman sits cross-legged with her eyes closed.
Many people practice yoga to improve the health of both mind and body.

Health workers at Sambhavna use many kinds of treatments, including herbal medicines and yoga, breathing and movement exercises that treat body, mind and spirit. Every person that comes to the clinic has a choice of which kind or combination of treatments they want to use. In this way, the clinic encourages people to participate in their own healing, and the health workers learn that different treatments work for different people.

A mental health worker treats problems such as panic attacks, disturbed sleep, depression, irritability, and impaired memory. Drugs may be given, though drugs with harmful effects are avoided. Herbal medicines, massage, and baths in hot water and medicinal oils are used to detoxify the body (cleanse by removing poisons).

Yoga helps heal the internal organs, manage pain, and control each person’s disease process. Though many survivors, especially Muslims who do not traditionally practice yoga, were skeptical at first, yoga has been found to be one of the most helpful treatments, particularly for people suffering from chronic diseases.

Finally, the clinic prepares and provides medicines using local herbs. All medicines are free of cost, and clinic workers provide information to make sure that people are well informed about what they are taking. The clinic is also built and maintained in a way that reduces toxic exposures.

Light radiates from a candle.

A candle against the darkness

The word Sambhavna means “possibility” in the Sanskrit and Hindi languages. Often, the people most affected by environmental disasters, such as in Bhopal, have little hope for recovery, justice, or for health. By using creativity, caring, and faith in the ability to heal, the health workers at Sambhavna have turned despair into hope.