A Calming Effect
It was 1991 when Richard Mandell '75 listened in disbelief as news of Africa's AIDS epidemic reached catastrophic numbers. As an acupuncturist in Brookline, Mass., Mandell knew his techniques could provide relief to victims of the disease, and he was set on taking the first plane to Africa.
"I quickly realized how naive that was," he recalls. "So instead, I helped set up a model that teaches health professionals in Africa how to use acupuncture."
It was a familiar path. Just one year earlier Mandell had founded the AIDS Care Project (ACP), an acupuncture clinic that has offered relief to thousands of patients suffering from HIV, AIDS, and painful symptoms resulting from medications. Today, ACP and its 11 satellites have garnered international recognition. Its techniques were developed in China more than 5,000 years ago, when doctors believed that chi flowed through several channels in the body, each connecting with internal organs. Stimulation of the proper acupuncture points located along the channels can restore one's health.
"We improve quality of life," says Mandell. "Acupuncture can help alleviate skin rashes, weakness, fatigue, and loss of appetite. It can also help with the side effects associated with drugs used to treat AIDS. In a place like Africa, acupuncture makes a lot of sense–it's portable, and it can bring down the cost of treatments because patients often need less medication."
In 2002, after months of establishing contacts via the Internet, he and a colleague made the trek to Uganda to meet the minister of health, tour hospices and hospitals, and launch the PanAfrican Acupuncture Project (PAAP). Last April, with two other licensed acupuncturists, he returned to the country to begin training. In tow were monetary donations, a training manual, and thousands of donated disposable acupuncture needles.
"We trained doctors, midwives, two physiotherapists, and one traditional healer," he says. "Although we suggested they practice their needling on fruits and vegetables, many of them went home that night and started treating people. One patient, who had chronic diarrhea that had not responded to conventional treatment, was cured after one application." Mandell and his colleagues awoke the next day to find a long line of patients awaiting to receive the free treatments.
The experience was a far cry from the halls of Oberlin, where Mandell majored in bassoon for more than a year before transferring to the college to study psychobiology. Later, he worked in England and Boston studying language acquisition and epilepsy in monkeys before again shifting gears to pursue a master's degree in creative writing at Brown University. During the Contra wars, Mandell traveled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace and returned to the states "transformed," earning an acupuncture degree at the New England School of Acupuncture.
Between 1990 and 2003, Mandell directed a groundbreaking program in Boston that uses acupuncture to fight addictions. Today, in addition to his work with PAAP, he divides his time between a small private practice and supervising acupuncture students during clinical rotations at Dimock Community Health Center in Boston's inner city.
"I would love for Americans to embrace acupuncture like people in other countries do," he says. "It's a fantastic form of healing that's been around for centuries."