When I get a headache, I don’t take paracetamol. I suffer in agony, moaning until everyone in the vicinity feels my pain. This is the legacy of a childhood raised by hippies, discouraged from taking medication whenever possible.
My childhood friends are the kind of people who offer you lavender oil when you’ve got a migraine; who you go to with a cut and they get out some mouldy-looking Tiger Balm they picked up in Thailand, in apparent denial that septicaemia exists. But even their hippiness doesn’t extend to ignoring medical advice when the situation is serious. After all, these are the people I sat laughing with a decade ago when we watched the Barefoot Doctor get a kicking online as he attempted to peddle his quackery via a web-chat. Sarcastic posters asked him: “My bus has crashed. I have a compound fracture in my right leg, my skull has had a good old thump against the seat, and my ribs have been broken into bits like a packet of smokey bacon crisps someone has stood on. What herbs and aromatic oils do you recommend?” And: “I know two people with multiple sclerosis. Should they massage their kidneys clockwise or anticlockwise while chanting?” Others asked exactly what he was a doctor of.
Yet fast-forward 10 years and my hippie mates and I are gobsmacked at how a mistrust of conventional medicine has infected the mainstream. Since Andrew Wakefield’s (now discredited) claims that MMR was linked to autism, a hardcore anti- immunisation movement has been growing, triggering a resurgence of preventable diseases. A map produced by the American Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) shows diseases spiking in areas where anti-vaccine campaigners are active, a phenomenon that Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow at CFR, has described as “Wakefieldism”.
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