The lack of both trained practitioners and government recognition is throttling the growth of traditional Chinese medicine amid a boom in demand, a key proponent says.
Rachmat, a member of the Indonesian Naturopath Association (IKNI), said on Tuesday that the lack of TCM experts in the country was the main barrier facing the growing number of patients seeking naturopathic, or non-medical and non-surgical, treatment.
“The number of practitioners who have mastered traditional Chinese medicine is limited,” he said.
“In Jakarta, we only have 10 naturopaths treating patients. Besides, in order to fully understand Chinese medicine, we need to study in China, where they teach students the laws and patterns of nature that can be applied to the human body. This is different from conventional medicine.”
Rachmat studied at the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine for five years and has for the past 10 years run a clinic on Jalan Pintu Air in Central Jakarta, where he treats patients suffering anything from migraines to cancer.
He said the other obstacle to the spread of traditional Chinese medicine was that the government did not recognize it fully as a health treatment.
“Indonesia has so far recognized acupuncture, but other therapies that are part of traditional Chinese medicine, such as herbal remedies and tui nan [massage] have not been recognized,” he said.
He added that the government was also more focused on cultivating its own traditional therapies.
“We know the government is now researching jamu [herbal drinks], which is good because Indonesia has a rich variety of medicinal plants, but traditional Chinese medicine is different from jamu,” Rachmat said.
The Health Ministry last year set up a Medicinal Plant and Traditional Medicine Research and Development Center in Tawangmangu, Central Java, in order to study herbal remedies.
However, Marius Widjaja, chairman of the Indonesian Health Consumer Empowerment Foundation, warned of the potentially deadly effects of such plants now being used in unregulated practices.
“Every plant has a toxic element and that’s what we need to pay attention to, because there are people who mislead the public about this risk by running clinics or producing herbal pills,” he said.
He said some people believed they had mastered herbal medicine after only undergoing training for a couple of months or simply through reading books.
“It’s impossible for people to create a herbal medicine or pill that can cure several diseases, yet we continue to see rampant advertisements about such medicines,” Marius said.
“Given the rampant nature of these advertisements and the unknown effects of the drugs or herbal medicines they promote, this is dangerous. Who is going to monitor this when people fall victim to these drugs?”
He cited the case of a 30-year-old woman who had been consuming herbal medicine for a short time and was now hospitalized.
“She wanted to lose weight and so she consumed a herbal concoction,” he said.
“Now she’s in a hospital’s intensive care unit for which her family has to pay Rp 20 million a day,” he added, declining to elaborate on the case.
“We need strict rules and a monitoring system in place in order to prevent fake herbal medicine practitioners from treating patients. Safety comes first.”
Under the 2009 Health Law, several kinds of medication are allowed in the country, including herbal ones, but the latter are not intended to replace conventional medication.