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Medicine under microscope

A vendor fills sacks of ingredients for traditional medicines yesterday at Phnom Penh’s O’Russei market.

Concerned about an increase in advertising touting the curative power of traditional medicines – including dubious claims about such diseases as HIV/AIDS and cancer – the Ministry of Health has warned practitioners of traditional Cambodian medicine to obey the law or face a crackdown.

“It is the opinion of the health minister and health officials at all levels that controlling the use of traditional medicine in the Kingdom is a top priority for the Ministry of Health,” under-secretary of state Yim Yan told the Post yesterday.

“All Khmer traditional medical practitioners and sellers must ask permission and register with the Ministry of Health first,” Yim Yan said.

On Monday, Health Minister Mam Bun Heng called for all traditional practitioners to respect the law and avoid harming people by creating misunderstandings through the use of misleading or deceptive advertisements.

“We are going to hold a meeting with all Khmer traditional medical practitioners at the end of this month or early December to tell them to be careful about their advertising,” Yim Yan said.

“All kinds of advertisements about medicines must have permission from the Health Ministry and the content of the advertisements must be accurate and clear.”

But this training would not be enough to protect people, Yim Yan said. The Ministry of Health planned to create a school with a full academic year of traditional medicine training because currently, traditional practitioners could not be called “professionals” with so little training, he said.

“We want them to understand medicine . . . and not use their patients’ lives for testing,” Yim Yan said. “We need them to respect the law rather than face a crackdown.”

A Khmer traditional medicine seller near the O’Russei market in Phnom Penh who declined to be named said yesterday her store did not advertise, so did not need to register.

“I don’t have a treatment service for patients. Instead, I introduce them to the medicine and show them how to use it themselves,” the seller said.

“So far, I have never received any complaints from clients.”

Kong Sokub, 49, a resident of Takeo province, said yesterday  she used to receive treatment from Khmer traditional practitioners who were nuns living in a temple on the mountain, but they did not heal her.

“My neighbour told me the practitioners were good at treating diabetes by using tree bark, but it was useless,” she said, adding that she had spent a lot of money and time buying the medicines and being treated in the hope she would be cured, but felt cheated.

Licadho medical officer Dr Horng Lairapo said traditional medicine itself was not the problem. “In fact, it is very useful, especially for patients who find conventional treatment hopeless,” he said.

“The important part is the training, so that people know exactly how to manufacture the medicine and how to treat patients.”



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