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Rising nos of patients go to Kashmir

Leeches, widely used by doctors to promote bloodletting in the past, are making a comeback in Kashmir to heal pain and other ailments, attracting patients from all over the country. Read on...

health and fitness Updated: May 06, 2008 10:48 IST
Sheikh Mushtaq
Leeches

Leeches, widely used by doctors to promote bloodletting in the past, are making a comeback in Kashmir to heal pain and other ailments, attracting patients from all over the country.

Doctors say at least three hospitals in the Himalayan region of Kashmir have started using leeches on patients suffering from skin diseases, arthritis, chronic headaches and sinusitis.

Rising numbers of patients, who have not been cured using conventional medicine, have started to visit the region's three "Unani" or traditional medicine hospitals for "leech therapy".

"We have started using leeches this year and the results are encouraging," said Naseer Ahmad Hakeem, a doctor who heads the three Unani hospitals. "More and more patients are visiting us."

He says leech saliva contains hirudin, an anticoagulant, as well as analgesic and anaesthetic compounds.

"Leeches are wonder-doctors. The saliva of leeches contains many bio-active substances which go into the body of a patient while leeches suck blood," Hakeem said.

Some doctors from the medical mainstream criticise "leech therapy" saying little research has been done on the subject.

"We do not expect the use of leeches in allopathic hospitals in the near future. A lot of research has to be done before that," says Mushtaq Ahmad, a doctor and a teacher in Kashmir's government medical college.

In 2004 use of blood-sucking leeches was approved by the US government as a tool for healing skin grafts or restoring circulation.

In March Hollywood actress Demi Moore said she used leeches to keep her skin looking fresh and younger.

In Kashmir, some patients said the treatment was helping.

"I have been to dozens of doctors across India, but all in vain. Now these creatures are really helping me, I am sure they have healing power," said Haleema Bano, pointing towards four leeches sucking blood from her leg in a small hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital.

Bano, a 45-year-old housewife, said she had been suffering from knee and other joint pain for three years.

Between two and four leeches are applied to the body until they drop off after 25 to 30 minutes. The leeches are then killed. Hospitals charge 50 rupees ($1.25) per leech, plus the doctor's consultation fee.

Abdul Ahad, 70, said he had suffered from a bad cold and headache for years and had recently gone partially blind. Conventional doctors have failed to cure him, he said.

"I have come here with hope, the doctor has assured me and told me I will be OK," he said before a paramedic placed two leeches on his cheeks, just below his eyes.

Leeches were first used in medicine as early as 200 BC and were common until the mid-1800s when newer therapies took their place.

"I am sure in the near future use of leeches will be as popular as any modern therapy," said Hakeem.