While Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV are not two diseases that we consider epidemic in industrialized countries (the US); they have reached epidemic proportions in other, less developed countries. In the US, we are fortunate enough to have access to health care, sanitary conditions, education, vaccines & nutrition; and due to our high stress lives we are much more likely to get completely preventable diseases like heart disease & type II diabetes. So, while we get carried away dealing with the stresses and strains of our busy, overworked lives, there is a huge contingent of people suffering & dying from diseases that can be treated & possibly prevented; but don’t have the means or access to any of it. Fortunately there are people out there using ‘new’, or in this case, very old treatment modalities to help those in impoverished areas to ease their suffering.
One modality we use in Chinese Medicine is Moxibustion; Moxa for short. It’s an herb by the name of Mugwort or Artemisia Vulgaris, you may know of it or even see it growing in your yard. It is a particularly powerful herb and can be used in a number of different ways. You can take it internally, or topically as a plaster, salve or rub; but most commonly this herb is burned either directly on the skin, just above the skin or on an acupuncture needle. There are many different kinds of moxa as well, they are generally processed differently; some more pure than others, some more smoky than others. Like anything, it depends on where you get it, who you get it from and what your intention is for using the herb. Like most things in Chinese Medicine, I find myself talking about it and think to myself, this sounds a little crazy and weird and possibly barbaric. Yes, we do burn this herb on your skin, however, it isn’t a burning sensation you feel but a calming & very relaxing warmth over an area of the body or a specific point. It’s really quite nice and therapeutic in more ways than one. Some common uses include the treatment of digestive disorders, musculoskeletal disorders (acute trauma and chronic pain), asthma & chronic immune compromising infections to name a few. In general it has a warming effect on the body and works very well to bring blood supply to the area, increase the healing capacity of the tissue, as well as emit a systemic improvement in your bodies natural immunity. The power of Moxa (or mugwort ) is much more than a sensation of warmth on the skin (which in itself is nice), it goes much deeper than that and causes a plethora of positive reactions deep to the tissue effecting the whole body and not just one area. For more information on Moxa and its different uses complete with pictures and video; check out this Facebook page: Moxibustion: The Power of Mugwort.
Moxa therapy has been shown to increase immune function, specifically increase white blood cell counts, anti-inflammatory cytokines & anti-body production. In addition to just improving your immunity and helping when you are simply feeling a bit down, it has proven to be particularly helpful in treating (you guessed it) TB and HIV. Ever wonder how we treated disease before there were vaccines and pharmaceuticals? When TB swept the country of Japan back in the 1930’s their primary treatment method was Moxa therapy. It proved especially helpful in improving life expectancy (of both the sick and the healthy), decreasing the symptoms associated with TB and raising the spirits of those who were afflicted by the disease as well as those who weren’t.
Presently moxa is still used in China & Japan as well as by Acupuncturists and Chinese Medicine practitioners across the United States and the world. In Japan it is so ‘popular’ that there are many who practice only Moxibustion therapy, (Moxibustionists) and there are many different levels of licensing for practicing Moxa. In addition to its therapeutic relevance, Moxa therapy is also cost-effective and easy to access; two very important aspects that a developing country, stricken by large numbers of TB and HIV could benefit from. One organization recognized the benefits of Moxa and is bringing this wealth of knowledge to Africa to help treat those suffering from both TB and HIV. The organization is called Moxafrica & originated in 2008:
It arose directly from a feasability and fact finding trip last December to Lyantonde, a truck stop town four hours from Kampala on the main route connecting Rwanda and the Eastern Congo to the whole of East Africa. Lyantonde has an unfortunate reputation as a focus for prostitution and HIV/AIDS, the town being home to the first ever officially recorded case of AIDS in Africa.
Our aim was to assess how they would feel about the idea of burning something on the skin, and whether they would consider it an acceptable therapy to try out in their own work places. Additionally we wanted to assess how easy it might be to teach African health workers basic moxa skills. We soon had them all rolling moxa, both making and burning tiny cones with impressive dexterity.
The following day we were invited to demonstrate moxa treatments on two patients, one of them a very sick man co-infected with TB and HIV. He was terribly wasted by the two diseases, cared for by his sister who was vainly trying to administer his daily medication. After we had finished treating him, using the minimum possible stimulation of moxa because of his dreadful condition, we used a trainee to help us explain to his sister how to use moxa and how to locate a treatment point, leaving her clear instructions on a simple protocol to follow every day, building up dosage if he strengthened.
What we suspect we witnessed at this moment was something we had not even considered previously – that teaching the carer of such a sick person a simple moxa protocol fundamentally offered her something meaningful to do for her brother, and was offering her something maybe even more important as well – hope. We’re not sure yet how significant this might turn out to be.
To our knowledge this was the first time that a moxa protocol for TB from the 1930’s has ever been used to treat anyone co-infected both with TB and AIDS anywhere in the world. Two weeks after we got back we got the following extraordinary feedback: “Frank’s response was truly fantastic. I wish you had seen the joy in his sister/attendant as she explained to us how he had improved. I think everyone was just so excited, as he seemed so ill.”
Two days after the treatment began, it transpired that Frank was out of bed, walking tentatively in the ward, and eating.
Cautiously, we found ourselves asking whether this simple treatment might really be able to make the sort of difference we hope it might (www.moxafrica.org, Feb. 6, 2011).
And thus, the project began and continues to inspire those afflicted by disease in an impoverished community. To continue reading about the program & additional studies regarding Moxa, please check out their website and if you feel so inclined, please donate to the cause.
In addition to this organization there are a number of others up and running in Africa as well as other countries including our own (the US) that I’ve written of in previous posts:
The Flying Needle: An organization also based in South Africa, helping those with HIV/AIDS
Acupuncturists Without Borders: An organization set up to help with traumatic events; i.e. Katrina and the 911 incidence
The Acupuncture Relief Project: A project stationed out of Nepal which was founded by a fellow OCOM graduate
Until next time, ask your Acupuncturist about Moxa treatment & as always…