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close this bookWhere There Is No Doctor - A Village Health Care Handbook (Hesperian Foundation, 1993, 516 p.)
close this folderChapter 5 - HEALING WITHOUT MEDICINES
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentHealing with Water
View the documentTimes When the Right Use of Water May Do More Good than Medicines


For most sicknesses no medicines are needed. Our bodies have their own defenses, or ways to resist and fight disease. In most cases, these natural defenses are far more important to our health than are medicines.

People will get well from most sicknesses - including the common cold and 'flu' - by themselves, without need for medicines.

To help the body fight off or overcome a sickness, often all that is needed is to:

keep clean

get plenty of rest

eat well and drink a lot of liquid

Even in a case of more serious illness, when a medicine may be needed, it is the body that must overcome the disease; the medicine only helps. Cleanliness, rest, nutritious food, and lots of water are still very important.

Much of the art of health care does not - and should not - depend on use of medications. Even if you live in an area where there are no modern medicines, there is a great deal you can do to prevent and treat most common sicknesses - if you learn how.

Many sicknesses can be prevented or treated without medicines.

If people simply learned how to use water correctly, this alone might do more to prevent and cure illnesses than all the medicines they now use... and misuse.

Healing with Water

Most of us could live without medicines. But no one can live without water. In fact, over half (57%) of the human body is water. If everyone living in farms and villages made the best use of water, the amount of sickness and death - especially of children - could be reduced.

For example, correct use of water is basic both in the prevention and treatment of diarrhea. In many areas diarrhea is the most common cause of sickness and death in small children. Contaminated (unclean) water is often part of the cause.

An important part of the prevention of diarrhea and many other illnesses is to make sure that drinking water is safe. Protect wells and springs from dirt and animals by putting fences or walls around them. Use cement or rock to provide good drainage around the well or spring, so that rain or spilled water runs away from it.

Where water may be contaminated, an important part of the prevention of diarrhea is to boil or filter the water used for drinking or for preparing foods. This is especially important for babies. Babies' bottles and eating utensils should also be boiled. If regular boiling of bottles is not possible, it is safer to use a cup and spoon. Washing hands with soap and water after a bowel movement (shifting) and before eating or handling foods is also important.


A common cause of death in children with diarrhea is severe dehydration, or loss of too much water from the body. By giving a child with diarrhea plenty of water (best with sugar or cereal and salt), dehydration can often be prevented or corrected (see Rehydration Drink).


Giving lots of liquids to a child with diarrhea is more important than any medicine. In fact, if enough liquid is given, no medicine is usually needed in the treatment of diarrhea.

On the next 2 pages are a number of other situations in which it is often more important to use water correctly than to use medicines.

Times When the Right Use of Water May Do More Good than Medicines


to help prevent

use water

1. diarrhea, worms, gut infections

boil or filter drinking water, wash hands, etc.


2. skin infections

bathe often

3. wounds becoming infected; tetanus

wash wounds well with soap and clean water



to treat

use water

1. diarrhea, dehydration

drink plenty of liquids


2. illnesses with fever

drink plenty of liquids

3. high fever

remove clothing and soak body with cool water


4. minor urinary infections (common in women)

drink plenty of water

5. cough, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough

drink a lot of water and breathe hot water vapors (to loosen mucus)


6. sores, impetigo, ringworm of skin or scalp, cradle cap, pimples

scrub with soap and clean water


7. infected wounds, abscesses, boils

hot soaks or compresses

8. stiff, sore muscles and joints

hot compresses


9. itching, burning, or weeping irritations of the skin

cold compresses

10. minor burns

hold in cold water at once


11. sore throat or tonsillitis

gargle with warm salt water

12. acid, lye, dirt, or irritating substance in eye

flood eye with cool water at once, and continue for 30 minutes


13. stuffed up nose

sniff salt water


14. constipation, hard stools

drink lots of water (also, enemas are safer than laxatives, but do not overuse)

15. cold sores or fever blisters

hold ice on blister for 1 hr. at first sign


In each of the above cases (except pneumonia) when water is used correctly, often medicines are not needed. In this book you will find many suggestions for ways of healing without need for medicine. Use medicines only when absolutely necessary.