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Mentally Ill Seek Afghan Shrines, Not Hospitals

With only 80 mental health treatment beds for an entire country of (an estimated) 29 million people (in 2009), desperation and superstition thrive in Afghanistan. An alternative “treatment” program in a religious shrine involves chaining people by the ankle for 40 days, allowing them to eat only bread, water, and black pepper, forbidding bathing, toilets, or changing clothes, wearing necklace amulets, and heavy doses of Islamic prayers. “The philosophy is, God can heal you or make you ill if he wants.” Although Afghan officials, medical personnel, and some consumers condemn the practice, devotees continue to visit the shrines to be chained up (or force their relatives to be chained), hoping for a miraculous cure. This video features the Mia Ali Sahib Shrine near Jalalabad.