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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Who needs modern medicine?

Who needs modern medicine?

They think that our medicine has very few side effects... so people recover quickly.

A young Cambodian
wins a future in old medicine


Khoem Namgech
, 19, says 90 percent of her success comes from hard work and the rest from luck. This sophomore at the University of Health and Science won a scholarship from the Khmernext foundation, receiving a laptop and four years’ financial support worth an annual $6,000.
Next year, she says, the foundation will give a scholarship to an underprivileged medical student. Her secret to winning the prize was a polished resume and a clearly stated letter of her own goals. Namgech has a big dream to make healthcare more accessible for needy people.
“Before God even helps us, we have to help ourselves, but we must not depend on our destiny,” she said. After her graduation, she wants to work for the MediKhmer company to raise awareness on the uses of traditional Khmer medicine.

Kounila Keo discovers that traditional Cambodian medicine has a future in the Kingdom's healthcare sector

TraditionalCambodian medicine comes in different shapes and colours and can be purchased in stores or from individuals throughout the country. Just about all Khmer medicine used nowadays is derived from mostly herbal plants, bark, roots and leaves from various trees, but there are also some minerals and other natural ingredients.

While many Cambodians think that Khmer medicines are a form of naturopathy that can cure many diseases, it is also believed that traditional medicine is by and large consumed by the poor because it is much cheaper and more available than Western medicine.

However, Eung Sok Lean, the chief of the research laboratory at MediKhmer, which recently opened and produces high-standard Khmer traditional medicines, does not agree with this idea and says that Khmer medicine has always been a favourite for all rich and poor Cambodians, even though some people also prefer Western medicine to cure their own illness.

“Khmer medicine is part of Cambodians’ life, although now it’s the century of modernity and high technology,” she says. “There is so much herbal medicine out there to explore and use to cure people of illnesses,” she adds.  

Sok Lean says that Khmer medicine’s popularity has been taken to a new level after MediKhmer was established a few months ago in cooperation with Pharnext, a company from France which has explored the potential of Khmer medicine.

Ung Phyrun, an official from the Ministry of Health, told LIFT that about 40 to 50 percent of the Cambodian population uses traditional medicine, which can be consumed orally and prescribed by a traditional medicine expert called a “Kru Khmer”.  

He adds that many regulated traditional medicine stores have been recognised nationally and have operated in Cambodia for many years, but says that the ministry will not let inexperienced practitioners of Khmer medicine advertise beyond their actual capacity.

As part of the efforts to upgrade the use of Khmer medicine, the Nippon Foundation last year supported the establishment of a school for “Kru Khmer”, or Khmer practitioners of traditional medicine, for the purpose of preservation and distribution of accurate information about traditional medicine in Cambodia.

It was seen as an initial effort to ensure that those trained in traditional medicine from all around the country would provide the best of traditional healthcare.

Having had years of experience in mixing traditional Khmer medicines for headaches, diarrhoea and physical pain for patients, the 50-something-year-old Van Veasna from Preah Vihear province says her patients believe that traditional medicine cures just as well as Western alternatives.

“They think that our medicine has very small side effects on our bodies after taken, so it makes people recover quickly,” she says.

As a Kru Khmer, she hopes that one day traditional Khmer medicine will be studied in a medical school or university, to end the mystery and silence the sceptics.

In order to ensure that the next generation of Cambodian doctors take traditional medicine into consideration, Pharnext and MediKhmer have founded a foundation called Khmernext to provide a scholarship to a medical student who after graduation continues to work with MediKhmer.

Professor Daneil Cohen, the CEO of Pharnext, spoke at a press conference in Phnom Penh last month, saying he thinks that a great deal of good traditional medicine abounds in Cambodia and that it should be used for the sake of humanity.

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