Indonesians say the practice started with a local rumor about a man who tried to kill himself by being crushed by a train. He was fed up after medical treatment failed to cure his paralysis. But while lying on the tracks, he suddenly felt cured, according to the hearsay.
JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesian officials are scrambling to find a solution to the latest dangerous trend in Jakarta: people who roam the city's railway tracks looking for free "electric therapy."
As many as several dozen people per day intentionally try to electrocute themselves along the rails, according to local media reports, because they believe it can cure all kinds of diseases, from diabetes to high-blood pressure to insomnia. When trains approach, people briefly step aside but rush back quickly into a sleeping position on the tracks to feel electrical currents they believe will cure their ailments.
Residents say the unorthodox—and dangerous—practice started with a local rumor about a man who tried to kill himself by lying on the tracks. He was fed up after suffering paralysis from a stroke and medical treatment failed to cure his symptoms. He allegedly decided that being crushed by a train would be better than continuing his misery. But while lying on the tracks, he suddenly felt cured, according to the hearsay. It's unclear whether any elements of the story were true.
European Pressphoto Agency
Dozens of Indonesians intentionally electrocute themselves on rail tracks every day, local media reports say.
As word of the supposed miracle spread, train tracks in slum areas in northern Jakarta became trendy as impromptu clinics. Until recently, more than 50 people would show up at the city's Rawa Buaya tracks every day. The numbers have dropped recently, since police and the state-run railroad erected a warning sign, but some people still come, convinced the tracks can cure them.
There is no medical or scientific evidence to support the treatment, says Murti Utami, a spokeswoman for Indonesia's Health Ministry. Officials have forbidden people to enter the site and threatened penalties of up to three months in prison or fines of $1,800, but it is difficult to police train tracks in Jakarta, which stretch out in all directions across the city, often with people living bunched up alongside.
"We encourage these people to seek professional medical help," Ms. Utami said. Indonesia offers free health care for its citizens, so anyone in need should go to a government clinic, she said.
However, Indonesians have long complained about the quality of care in government-run clinics, which they say are under-funded and crowded. Like many other developing countries, Indonesia continues to have high rates of preventable disease such as dengue and tuberculosis. Indonesian health standards in some instances lag behind neighboring countries, with high maternal mortality, according to the World Health Organization. Many people can't afford more sophisticated medical care than is available in government clinics.
Moreover, Indonesians often flock to quacks and quirky cures. In February, four people died in a stampede when thousands of people sought to meet a boy shaman called Ponari—believed to be in possession of a special healing stone—after he was struck by lightning (he survived).
The 12-year-old boy rose to fame after he began practicing as a child healer with what many believe were supernatural powers capable of curing any illness. Thousands flocked to his home in Kedungsari village, in Jombang, East Java. His healing powers were supposedly delivered by dipping the stone into water, then rubbing it against ailing body parts. People collected water from his shower in the hopes of obtaining a cure for their illnesses, even though there was no medical explanation for the treatment. Many patients have claimed to be cured by the practice, however.
Indeed, some Indonesians put more trust in their faith healers and herbal-medicine doctors than in Western medicine. Indonesian officials believe education would help overcome the distrust of Western medical practices, Ms. Utami said.
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