Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Desperate, Sick Indonesians Use Railroad Therapy

Villagers lie on a railway track for an electricity therapy in Rawa Buaya, Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Ignoring the red-and-white danger sign, Sri Mulyati walks slowly to the train tracks, lies down and stretches her body across the rails. Like the nearly dozen others lined up along the track, the 50-year-old diabetes patient has given up on doctors and can't afford the expensive medicines they prescribe. In her mind, she has only one option left: electric therapy. "I'll keep doing this until I'm completely cured," said Mulyati, while an oncoming passenger train sends a current racing through her body. She leaps from the tracks as the train approaches and then, after it has passed, climbs back into position. 

Pseudo-medical treatments are wildly popular in many parts of Asia. There are stories about people who are cured after touching a magic stone or eating dung from sacred cows. These miracles attract thousands, especially in Indonesia, where the health care system is not available to the poor.

Medical experts say there is no evidence that lying on the rails does any good. But Mulyati insists it provides more relief for her symptoms - high-blood pressure, sleeplessness and high cholesterol - than any doctor has since she was first diagnosed with diabetes 13 years ago. She turned to train track therapy last year after hearing a rumor about an ethnic Chinese man, who was partially paralyzed by a stroke, going to the tracks to kill himself, but instead finding himself cured. It's a story that's been told and retold in Indonesia.

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