By Dr Balmick Foogooa
After the devastating cyclones Alix and Carol in 1960, the Mauritian government and the private sector resolved to build reinforced concrete houses and buildings to replace the wooden and thatched shanties of those days.
The latter, although not cyclone-proof, had the advantage of providing a comfortable ambient temperature in both winter and summer. This was so because those houses had wooden or earthen floors, wooden doors and windows. Thus there was almost no need for fans and air conditioners.
The main inconvenience with the reinforced concrete buildings is that in winter they are too cold, especially if they have metal doors and windows, and ceramic tiles on the floor. On the other hand, in summer they become unbearably hot. In multi-storey buildings, the uppermost storey is the hottest.
In most European countries nearly all private and public buildings have an insulation system for the roof, floor and wall plus central heating. Besides, they have wooden doors and double-glazed windows. All this, including wallpaper on the walls, provides the interior of the buildings with an ideal insulation against the biting cold outside.
Paradoxical as it may sound, it is evident that in winter in Mauritius and other countries under similar conditions, the interior of our buildings and houses is colder than Europe.
So, in the light of the above, all of us should take necessary measures to guard against the cold in winter.
The best remedy for cough and runny nose
One fateful Saturday, in the wintry days of August, I was asked by the Medical Superintendent of Victoria Hospital to replace a sick doctor at a dispensary situated in one of the coldest regions of the Island. In contrast to the Casualty unit of VH, there were barely two dozen patients in the Dispensary hall.
After examining only a few patients, my attention was drawn to a very bizarre situation. The same patients were attending the dispensary every week and, more strangely, with the same complaints: sore throat, runny nose and cough. And they were prescribed the same drugs: (1) Paracetamol tablets, (2) Cough mixture, and (3) Amoxyllin, an antibiotic. I don’t know why antibiotic every week!
So, I resolved to go to the remaining patients sitting in the waiting room. All of them were astonished when I started looking at their feet. Strangely enough, barring a few men who were wearing socks and shoes, most patients mainly the womenfolk comprising mostly the Indo-Mauritian, had rubber and nylon flip-flops and chappals as footwear.
On being queried about the absence of socks and leather shoes on their feet, most replied that it is not fashionable to wear such footwear when one is wearing saree or chous.
Touching the tiles on the floor with the back of my hand, I asked the patients which of the three elements around them was the coldest. The air, the walls or the floor? Obviously everyone answered that the floor was by far the coldest.
Briefly referring to elementary geography known to all of us, I emphasized that in winter in such regions as Midlands, Forest Side and Curepipe, Mauritians should dress up differently from those living in the North, West, coastal areas and the like. I added that logically different seasons and regions of the country demand different kinds of attire and footwear. So, the best remedy against common cold is a pair of woollen/cotton socks and leather shoes.
Saving Energy and Money on Drugs
Elaborating further, I pointed out to the patients how intuitively they had all worn woollen jumpers, coats, caps, etc., on that chilly and rainy wintry day, but concerning their footwear their intuition went wrong. Actually wearing rubber or nylon flip-flops is tantamount to moving around barefoot, and is reasonable only in the hot climate and season. But in winter, when the temperature outside is 15ºC or less, that is less than half the normal human body temperature, one should be completely protected against the cold. First and foremost, the feet need protection because they are the part of our body which touch the chilly floor.
Moreover, nylon garments and underwear should be avoided in both winter and summer. Nylon footwear, worn without a pair of cotton socks, may lead to fungal infections especially among the diabetic patients, as their immunity is lower.
So, notwithstanding warm outfits, going out with nylon or rubber flip-flops in cold days or nights make the body lose a lot of body heat. And this heat is acquired after eating food and drinking. We should not forget that food and drinks have to be bought. Hence money is wasted.
Most importantly, when the body loses its temperature, the uncomfortable nuisances such as runny nose, sore throats and cough creep in. Analogically, wearing such footwear is tantamount to making several holes in the petrol tank of our cars!
Hence, a nationwide campaign by the MoH, MoE and MSS and all other stakeholders should be launched to convince Mauritians to give up this bad habit, especially in winter. Then the country and the people could save millions of Rupees which are presently spent on drugs to treat avoidable colds and coughs.
* Published in print edition on 14 October 2011