The Doctor-Botanist Couple Healing a Community in the Rural South


When Ruby Evans Moss referred to as on Dr. Marlo Paul this spring, the schoolteacher had nowhere to show. Her husband, Adolphus Moss, a deacon and workplace worker who farmed in his spare time, was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Moss was informed to quarantine at house regardless of feeling sick as a result of her rural hospital had run out of exams and PPE. Her main care physician’s workplace was shuttered and the nearest metropolis hospital was a 70-mile drive from her tiny Alabama Black Belt community of Bellamy.

Within days, Moss examined optimistic for COVID-19 at a cell testing unit, as did her two sisters, a cousin, her finest good friend’s husband, and a co-worker. A number of days later, her husband handed away.

“It was happening so fast,” stated Moss. “So many of our family members, friends, and neighbors getting sick.”

As the virus engulfed her neighborhood, Moss was visited by Dr. Paul and her husband Anthony, a retired plant biologist. The couple, who run a medicinal herb farm and wellness heart in the area, drove 50 miles from their farm in Sawyerville to verify on Moss. Dr. Paul, who’s the solely Black feminine physician inside three neighboring counties, took Moss’s vitals and supplied well being ideas, then the Pauls gave her a beneficiant provide of an natural complement they produced on their farm. They additionally offered the complement to a number of of Moss’ members of the family and the physician phoned her day by day to supply help and monitor signs—all with out charging her a penny.

Dr. Marlo Paul provides Ruby Evans Moss a digital hug throughout a current house go to.

In current months, COVID-19 has battered the rural South, disproportionately affecting African Americans like Moss and her family and friends, and stretching already skinny well being care assets. The Pauls have aimed to fill the hole, making roughly 200 house wellness visits to this point to these sick with the virus in a area saddled with some of the worst COVID-19 infection rates. They don’t cost for the visits, the herbs, or the after-care calls. And, to date, all the sufferers they’ve served have survived, the couple stated.

“They were there for me mentally and physically,” Moss informed Civil Eats. “It was just a blessing that God sent these people.”

Disparities Lead to Climbing COVID-19 Cases

The Pauls’ 116-acre farm lies on a mild slope surrounded by woods in Hale County, the coronary heart of Alabama’s Black Belt. While the land is bucolic, life in the area is harsh. The Black Belt, recognized traditionally for its wealthy black soil, cotton manufacturing, and predominantly African American inhabitants, continues to be outlined by the legacy of slavery. With a few of the highest poverty rates in the nation, the area’s residents face unemployment or under-employment and meager entry to training and medical care—circumstances ripe for the coronavirus to unfold unfettered.

Most of the farmland in the Black Belt remains to be owned by white individuals, whereas African Americans are employed in marginal jobs in housekeeping, trucking, manufacturing, meals processing, and agriculture.

While rural communities are distant and remoted—typically a good factor with regards to preventing coronavirus—many Black Belt residents are important frontline employees who commute to close by cities, the place they’ve been uncovered.

While the rural communities are distant and remoted—typically a good factor with regards to preventing coronavirus—many Black Belt residents are important frontline employees who commute to close by cities, the place they’ve been uncovered. And as a result of most individuals in the space reside in cramped trailers or cell properties—typically in multi-generational households—the virus has unfold shortly amongst family.

Thirty-seven p.c of Alabama’s COVID-19 circumstances and practically half of its COVID-19 deaths have taken place among the state’s Black residents, regardless of the proven fact that they make up solely a quarter of the state’s population.

Alabama, which like different Southern states reopened early (together with bars and dine-in eating places), has seen a spike in circumstances since Memorial Day. As of final week, cases have continued to climb, hospitalizations were at an all-time high, and ICU beds at an all-time low. More than 1,000 individuals in the state have died.

“The numbers of positive cases rose very slowly in our area because there wasn’t adequate testing,” stated Pamela Madzima, Alabama state coordinator at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which represents Black farming cooperatives. “As testing expanded, the numbers [in the Black Belt] quickly doubled and tripled. We’re still seeing high numbers . . . even though the state has opened up.”

Before the pandemic, Black rural residents grappled with excessive charges of power well being circumstances such diabetes, hypertension, bronchial asthma, and hypertension. Now, lots of those self same circumstances have put them at increased risk of extreme sickness from COVID-19.

“What COVID-19 did was really reveal the underlying health problems of people in our Black Belt counties and exposed the great health disparities between Black and white,” stated John Zippert, chair of Greene County Hospital System board of administrators. Those disparities exist partly as a result of about 40 p.c of the inhabitants is uninsured, Zippert stated, as a result of lawmakers in Alabama—like different Southern states—selected to not broaden Medicaid below the Affordable Care Act.

“What COVID-19 did was really reveal the underlying health problems of people in our Black Belt counties and exposed the great health disparities between Black and white.”

Moreover, Alabama’s Black Belt counties and others close to them have lengthy been the dumping grounds for varied industries. Those who work in crops and factories are additionally in contact with pollution and harmful chemical substances. As a end result, giant numbers of comparatively younger individuals in the area have bone and pancreatic cancers, coronary heart assaults, and strokes, stated Marlo Paul. And a current Harvard study discovered that even a very small improve in the quantity of air pollution a neighborhood is uncovered to over the long run can result in a giant improve in the COVID-19 loss of life charge.

On prime of these points, entry to healthcare in the Black Belt is abysmal, stated Paul. At least seven rural hospitals have closed over the previous decade and, of the ones that stay, 88 percent operate in the red. Many rural hospitals and clinics are unable to afford even fundamental requirements, together with gloves, masks, or coronavirus exams, to not point out ventilators. “There are no specialists and the hospitals are not equipped to do most of what people need,” stated Paul.

Due to this lack of assets, Paul stated, hospitals and nursing properties there have turned away very sick COVID-19 sufferers. Those sufferers are pressured to make it on their very own or drive lengthy distances to a bigger hospital.

There’s additionally a dearth of details about the virus in the area, stated Anthony Paul. “The schools, the churches, and the clinics are closed,” he stated “There is no education, and the people in this area don’t understand the virus.” Some don’t have broadband and even a constant cellphone sign, he added. As a end result, individuals could not know the way the virus is transmitted; rumors and conspiracy theories abound. Some imagine the virus gained’t harm them and go about their lives as normal, whereas others put on their masks even to sleep, compromising their potential to breathe.

Growing Herbs to Thwart Disease

These socio-economic and well being disparities have impressed the Pauls to work for change. And their farm has turn into a automobile for much-needed therapeutic in the area.

As a pupil and later biology professor at Oakwood University in Alabama, Anthony based the National Association for the Prevention of Starvation (NAPS), a nonprofit Christian-based relief organization that labored with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, supporting African American farmers in the Black Belt and seeing first-hand the challenges confronted by residents of the rural South. “The poverty, the health disparities, and the problems faced by Black farmers really stuck in my mind,” he stated.


Marlo Paul used to have a personal follow in northern Alabama. On weekends, she supplied free clinics in the state’s Black Belt counties. The couple finally determined to focus full-time on serving to rural Black communities. Ten years in the past, they left their jobs and purchased land about 40 miles south of Tuscaloosa, naming it Eden Land Farm.

At first, they grew greens and Anthony led native NAPS volunteers in constructing a wellness heart on the farm and a clinic and college in a neighboring county. Marlo, who serves as NAPS’s medical director, started to work at two clinics in the state’s poorest counties. “This work brought me back to my true calling as a physician,” she recalled. “It was not to make a lot of money, but to help those who need it the most.”

As she witnessed the extent and broad vary of sicknesses in the Black Belt, Marlo got here to understand that standard medication wasn’t working for many of her sufferers. Instead of main them towards restoration and illness prevention, she was briefly patching up issues. It was then that the Pauls began working with a extra holistic strategy to therapeutic, together with selling way of life modifications and rising herbs that would counter illness.

Today, the Pauls develop about 30 herbs on the farm; some begin from seeds in the greenhouses and others are perennials that completely develop on the property. Instead of utilizing pesticides and herbicides, they preserve 50 sheep, 10 cows, and 30 goats, and use the manure to fertilize the soil (the farm is just not licensed natural). They supply drip irrigation from rainwater.

To develop their line of natural dietary supplements, the Pauls merged their medical and plant biology expertise to seek for potent plant-derived components that energy standard remedy. Willow bark, for instance, incorporates salicin that the physique converts into salicylic acid—a ache reliever and anti inflammatory agent that has been modified by chemists into modern-day aspirin.

They additionally rely broadly on crops thought of medicinal round the world, with scientific analysis backing, together with moringa oleifera, broadly used in Southeast Asia to treatment diabetes, joint ache, and different maladies, hibiscus, widespread with healers throughout the globe for its antibacterial, anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive results, ligustrum (privet) plants, used in Chinese medication to stop and treatment hepatitis and power bronchitis, and the mimosa plant, employed in Indian Ayurvedic medication to deal with all the pieces from diarrhea to dysentery and bleeding.

When touring internationally on medical missions with NAPS, the Pauls have additionally spoken with native medication women and men about the herbs they use. And they’ve interviewed African American elders in the Black Belt about widespread plant-based cures used there. That’s how they got here throughout mullein (verbascum thapsus), historically used in the South to deal with respiratory issues, aches, and arthritis. Another native discovery was osage orange, also called maclura pomifera or the hedge apple tree, omnipresent in the Black Belt and used as an anti-inflammatory medication. Some scientists imagine the bitter plant may very well be an alternative cancer treatment.

“Old folks are dying off and the next generation has no knowledge of plants because they have not relied on home remedies.”

“If you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it,” stated Anthony. “Old folks are dying off and the next generation has no knowledge of plants because they have not relied on home remedies.”

The herbs are picked contemporary, freeze dried, and packaged on the farm. The dietary supplements are offered on-line, however the Pauls additionally distribute them domestically freed from cost, stated Anthony. Prior to the pandemic, the couple additionally hosted well being seminars and ran retreats.

Their natural dietary supplements usually are not a alternative for western medication, the couple stated. But they will help help wholesome outcomes, particularly when coupled with way of life modifications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates dietary dietary supplements—together with natural ones—doesn’t require that they be examined or accredited previous to being offered. “Federal law does not require dietary supplements to be proven safe to FDA’s satisfaction before they are marketed,” says the agency.

The speedy unfold of COVID-19 amongst Black Belt residents refocused the couple’s work, stated Marlo, main her to assemble an all-volunteer medical group to make home calls, together with nurses, medical assistants, volunteer missionary faculty college students, and her husband. The group drives to the properties of these impacted by the virus, lots of whom reside in remoted areas, with the physician checking temperatures, oxygen saturation, and listening to sufferers’ lungs. They additionally distribute the natural dietary supplements to all family members. Marlo shares well being ideas: drink a lot of water, do reasonable train akin to strolling, get sufficient sleep, and keep away from sugar. She additionally prays with the sufferers.

“During the pandemic, our main objective is to keep people out of the hospital,” she stated. “Those who go to the hospital usually don’t make it.”

Resilience and Hope

Ruby Moss recovered at house inside a few weeks of getting COVID. Since her husband’s passing, she now lives alone in a distant wooded space with few different homes round—so she’s grateful that the Pauls checked on her in individual when nobody else did.

“You don’t have too many doctors who do that kind of stuff,” stated Moss.

Now, she’s nervous for her neighbors’ well being in addition to their financial well-being, provided that the pandemic has wiped away jobs in a area that was already economically depressed. Moss lives in Sumter County, which is two-thirds African-American and carries the distinction of being Alabama’s poorest county, with a poverty charge of 36 p.c. “Our community is dying out,” she stated, “but not just because of COVID. People can’t find work, schools have closed, people don’t have enough to eat. It’s just been rough living here.”

Zippert of the Greene County Hospital System stated the work Marlo and Anthony Paul do is a nice service to the neighborhood. “They’re providing care to people who desperately need it,” Zippert stated. But the Black Belt deserves a lot extra entry to care to alleviate its well being care inequities, he added, and that may solely be achieved via systemic change, particularly increasing Medicaid.

Without medical health insurance, tens of thousands of people in the state’s rural areas don’t see a physician on a common foundation, can’t afford remedy, and find yourself with power, superior levels of preventable diseases akin to most cancers, hypertension, or bronchial asthma—all co-morbidity elements with regards to COVID-19.

“People have these conditions because they don’t have insurance. And if they catch the coronavirus, they get sicker and are more likely to die,” Zippert stated. “It’s an injustice, and for people in places like the Black Belt, where there’s historical poverty, the impact has been much worse.”

Southern states’ refusal to broaden Medicaid has impacted not simply people, but in addition strained the well being care system, Zippert stated. The Greene County Health System spends $100,000 monthly on uncompensated care, destabilizing its funds. It has stayed afloat attributable to income from digital bingo machines, but it surely has simply two medical doctors and might’t afford to convey on one other.

Because probabilities for Medicaid growth in Alabama are small—Republican Governor Kay Ivey has refused to contemplate it—and COVID-19 circumstances in Alabama and throughout the South are persevering with to rise, the Pauls are working to broaden their house visiting service to neighboring Mississippi, the place a current spike in circumstances has battered local health care facilities. NAPS can also be working to construct a clinic in that state.

They’re additionally working with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives to begin a telemedicine program. But it gained’t be simple, provided that a lot of the space lacks dependable, inexpensive broadband.

Despite the despair of rural poverty and the shortage of medical care, Anthony stated he’s constantly awed by Black Belt residents. “People here have that thing called resilience,” he stated. “It’s something mysterious and spiritual.”

For Marlo, who not too long ago discovered that her great-great-grandmother was a freed slave from Itta Bena, Mississippi, working in the Black Belt has turned out to be a homecoming of types.

“I’m serving my brothers and sisters,” she stated. “It’s a very rewarding thing.”