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September 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(5): 545-52.

Illness behaviour in Sri Lanka: results of a survey in two Sinhalese communities.

Wolffers I.

Institute of Cultural Anthropology, University of Leyden, The Netherlands.

Although cosmopolitan medicine plays an increasingly important role in developing countries, people still use indigenous medicines. A 1983 survey in two Sinhalese communities in Sri Lanka investigated the patients' use of cosmopolitan or traditional treatments for various illnesses. It appears that for acute complaints, or when a child seems seriously ill, people use cosmopolitan medicine. For common ailments which are known to be self-limiting, people use traditional home remedies and consult Ayurvedic practitioners. In chronic complaints some patients use cosmopolitan medicine, while others prefer the Ayurvedic system or use both kinds of medicine. For a 'snakebite' or a 'fracture' people prefer the local specialists and for mental illnesses they consult the adura and Buddhist clergy; as a last resort they turn to the cosmopolitan facility. Ayurvedic medicine does not play a role of any importance in the treatment of mental disease. The aduras in the rural areas and the Buddhist monks and priests in the more urban areas have a clear function in the management of mental disease. Institutionally trained Ayurvedic practitioners have a less clear function, since they often dispense cosmopolitan medicines.

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