Beyond Borders: Acupuncture in Humanitarian work Focus on: Barefoot Acupuncturists

By:  Anthony M. Giovanniello, MS.Ac.,L.Ac.  of Acupuncture Ambassadors

 Mumbai, India

“... it is here in the hutments of Bandra East, that Walter Fischer treats the economically disadvantaged with his magical needles. ... From 40-plus Mahananda to 75-year-old Laxmi, they all have tales of relief from chronic physical ailments. Mahananda, who suffered from rheumatism, tells you happily that she doesn’t need to wake up her daughter at night now to use the community toilet. Seventy-year-old Prema, who has brought chowchow made from noodles from her native Nepal for Fischer, has regained sensation in her right foot and no longer suffers from insomnia. Snehal’s school going daughter pronounces proudly in English: ” My mother is ninety percents better”...

Alpana Chowdhury in Sunday Times of India

The Beginning

It all started in 2007. Two acupuncturists, Walter Fischer (Belgium) and Jacques Beytrison (Switzerland) travel to Mumbai, India. They witness the stark evidence of an extreme lack of access to appropriate healthcare in the poor areas of the city and decide to use their skills to provide some solutions. “Barefoot Acupuncturists”, a non-profit organization, would be created for that purpose.

In January 2008, Walter Fischer decided to set up a small clinic in a slum of Mumbai. Ujwala Patil, a young Indian social worker, joins his efforts and together they open a rudimentary acupuncture clinic (7 square meters, two treatment beds, no running water).

Soon after the clinic became a great success among the residents of this poor community. Through their efforts, word of the powerful medicine of acupuncture begins to gradually spread its way across the poor areas of Mumbai. Due to the increasing crowds of incoming patients, in May 2009 the acupuncture clinic moved to a larger facility in the same slum, offering 5 beds and, at last, a toilet and running water.

A few months later Ujwala creates her own NGO, “Barefoot Slums”. Since then “Barefoot Slums” has been in-charge of running the acupuncture clinics in Mumbai and beyond, in association with Walter and the “Barefoot Acupuncturists”.

The initiative of Barefoot Acupuncturists is about sharing and contributing to a more decent society. "Why?" Because it is a basic necessity to alleviate pain and illness, and to provide a sense of dignity to so many who are in need.

Why Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an effective, versatile and economical medicine.

Why humanitarian acupuncture?

Because Barefoot Acupuncturists can share and offer access to an efficient and powerful medicine for people who could not afford it without them.

 Acupuncture from an economic perspective:

  • Allows treatment at a low cost (acupuncture equipment is cheap).
  • Is highly adaptable to many places and situations due to its simplicity

    and portability.

  • Provides an alternative to expensive and sophisticated treatments.


Acupuncture from a healthcare perspective:

  • Offers a proven, effective and holistic solution to health related issues.
  • Can offer help in cases that have not been successful with conventional medicine.
  • Can reduce the excessive use of pharmaceutical drugs and their potential side effects.

 Acupuncture from a human perspective:

  • Requires a detailed evaluation, a global approach and real attention to the

problems of the patients who know they are being listened to and understood.

As a preventive medicine and with its well-known positive action on the mental health of patients, acupuncture offers a real contribution to general well-being.


Evidence from the work of Barefoot Acupuncturists over the last 8 years show that humanitarian acupuncture is an effective tool to fight poverty and that together they can realize profound benefits for the communities they work in.

In 2014 alone Barefoot Acupuncturists provided over 15,000 treatments and made significant progress towards the training of practitioners that will bring low-cost acupuncture to more communities.

While acupuncture can treat many more disorders, physical pain makes up about 90% of the cases in their slum clinics. They also treat many cases of paralysis, neurological pathologies, digestive problems, sleep disorders and gynecological diseases.

100% of the patients are discovering and experiencing acupuncture for the first time. Women, who deal with the large majority of heavy domestic tasks, represent 65% of the patients.

The work of Barefoot Acupuncturists work has grown significantly since their humble beginnings. They now have two clinics in Mumbai slums, including one in Dharavi (Asia's biggest slum); and two clinics in rural villages of Tamil Nadu (in South India).

Treatments are now delivered by nine local acupuncturists trained by experienced therapists in Traditional Chinese Medicine, from all over the world, who worked in our clinics and generously shared their knowledge and time with their team.


Tomorrow is by definition uncertain, but Barefoot Acupuncturists believe in it. They will continue to put their efforts into developing autonomous clinic structures, giving acupuncture training in villages and slums and reaching the poorest to improve their tomorrow. They selflessly do this because everyday they see what can be achieved. Because they believe that it will make the world a slightly better place.

For more information about Barefoot Acupuncturists and their important work as    well as and to make a contribution to support their efforts go to: