top of page
  • By Gaafar Uherbelau

Apply some thought rather than traditional nostrums to your personal health

Somehow, when it comes to health, many of us like to hold on to beliefs and attitudes that have remained for generations. I’m not talking about traditional medicine or practices, but rather the supposedly effective home remedies and cures that are not prescribed by our physician but by our friends and family. These, according to those close to us, are alleged to cure and treat everything. Headaches, toothaches, sprains, mosquito bites, sore knees, pimples and many more are treated with Vicks Vaporub. Losing your hair? Break out the horse shampoo.

We tend to seek initial consultation from family members and friends who we remember had an illness or condition which we now face. We compare symptoms and pain severity, we look for physical similarities like rashes and where they are located and ask them what home remedies they tried that worked. We then think, if it worked for them, so it shall for me. There’s no need to pay the doctor a visit. Sometimes we even go to the point of asking for their left over antibiotics, which they apparently stopped taking as soon as they felt better. So we make a self-diagnosis and self-prescription, and for those with online access, we add a second self-opinion with WebMD.

And then a couple of days later we’re feeling worse, not better. We find that the home remedy is not working so now we have to see a doctor. Once again we call our expert sources who helped diagnose us, asking them which doctor is the “best”. They say private clinics are the best because, well, just because. So we make an appointment and go. Once inside the exam room with the doctor, we admit that we chew or smoke but honestly are trying to quit, we don’t use Ajinomoto but Accent instead to cook, and we admit that we have been really trying to exercise more than once a month. And then we fall silent, glad that we’re finally getting treated.

Once the doctor tells us what’s wrong and instructs us on how to take the prescribed medication, we say thank you and leave. We’re so relieved and confident in our treatment plan that we don’t ask how we got sick in the first place, and what we need to change in our daily routines or household to prevent getting sick again. Sometimes we ask about our blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, etc., and we don’t realize that we heard the same answers the last time or from another doctor.

This same attitude we also apply to our overall understanding and expectation of health. We often think health is the responsibility of the Ministry or Department of Health and we tend to think health and healthcare are one and the same. We see health and we think hospitals, medicine, nurses and doctors, lab coats and stethoscopes, syringes and bandages. We see healthcare and well, it’s the same thing isn’t it? Hmmm…

What about food labeling and well-lit sidewalks and roads? What about policies addressing bullying in schools and sexual harassment in workplaces? What about ensuring raw sewage isn’t free-flowing into our pristine paradise? What about having enough income to buy healthy foods? What about seatbelt and speed limit enforcement on our roads and highways? What about taxation on betelnut, since it’s a legal drug like alcohol and cigarettes? What do we call these? Government responsibilities? Well, maybe but guess what – who and what do they affect most? Yup, they most affect OUR HEALTH.

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So with this, let’s change our attitudes and views on health, shifting our focus from diagnosis and treatment of diseases (healthcare) towards promoting well-being and welfare. This means we make healthier choices not just to prevent disease or illness but also to build healthy relationships, maintain happiness, love, and peace, and making sure we have a few laughs while doing it.

Gaafar Uherbelau is a social marketer for the Palau Ministry of Health and is currently studying Social Sciences for Public Health at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Send feedback to

bottom of page