Traditional, not scientific

THANK you to The Star for the front-page report headlined “Medicine or menace” (Nov 26) and the following stories by Mei Mei Chu.

Over the years when public healthcare was growing, the Health Ministry and Malaysian doctors made strong efforts to educate the public, especially the Malay population, against the use of bomoh, unregistered midwives and other types of native medicines. Slowly, there seemed to be greater acceptance of scientific medicine by the public including the Malays. Your stories suggest that the needle is probably turning back.

The concept of traditional and alternative medicine was probably recommended by the World Health Organisation which began bending to the demands of traditional medicine practitioners in China, India and “quacks” in the United States and Europe.

In 2016, the Health Ministry gave in and created the traditional and alternative medicine division to register and regulate this practice. I invite any health professional or manager to visit this department that is supposed to regulate what is really quack medicine.

Traditional medicine is based on beliefs that existed hundreds or thousands of years ago. It is based on a form of medical practice that the government and medical profession have been trying to get rid of. There were already many religious healers proclaiming powers to cure diseases before the 2016 legislation came into existence.

Medical practice by registered practitioners, on the other hand, is evidence-based. Old remedies in this practice are constantly reviewed. Those that do not work or have serious side effects are discarded. There are costly and carefully constructed clinical trials conducted before any pharmaceutical or device is allowed to be marketed to the people.

And most important, over the years this type of “Western medicine” has proven its place based on logic and reasoning. This medicine accepts that you cannot always cure but you can often modify and relieve an illness. There are also numerous scientific journals containing articles based on sound clinical research. New scientific breakthroughs are announced and then challenged.

Traditional medicine including the prescription of herbs is not evidence-based. They make outrageous claims. I know one Chinese traditional medicine practitioner working out of a hotel in Kuala Lumpur who claims to be able to diagnose all kinds of medical disorders by simply feeling the pulse of an individual. He now appears to be scientific by ordering blood tests done by scientific medical labs which flag abnormal readings for the convenience of the patient and the quack. They charge astronomical fees.

I know of one acupuncture clinic in the city centre which treats advanced cancer patients. It charges RM500 per treatment – recommended twice a week – for each patient. They claim to improve and even cure any type of cancer about 30% of the time. Desperate patients pay up in the hope that they could be saved. Should not the ministry and specifically the Medical Council investigate these kinds of claims?

Acupuncture has no scientific basis, not in physiology, biochemistry or anatomy. The acceptance of these practices is based on beliefs, not science. If the public choose to accept acupuncture based on ancient Chinese beliefs, let the prices be regulated to prevent reckless profiteering.

Practitioners of all types of traditional medicine should not be allowed to advertise themselves as doctors. These practitioners seem to be given a free rein by our medical authorities. No wonder the bill for traditional medicine is estimated to be RM29bil per year.

I call upon the Malaysian Medical Association, the Academy of Medicine, the College of Family Practitioners and all other professional medical bodies to strongly demand that the ministry ban traditional and alternative medicine. Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and his band of regulators should speak up and stop this menace as soon as possible.


Kuala Lumpur

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