Sunday, December 07, 2008


Western or modern medicine is presently the dominant healthcare system in our country. However, the emphasis on private curative health measures, sophisticated technology, expensive drugs and complicated machinery has given rise to increasingly exorbitant medical costs and also the incidence of medical errors. The critical shortage of medical professionals and support staff has further strained the delivery of medical services.

The detractors of traditional medicine systems are quick to highlight adverse incidents connected to the practice of these systems. However, the public may often not be aware, or may overlook, the magnitude of problems experienced with prescribed conventional modern drugs and treatments.

For example, in the US alone, studies carried out between 1993 and 1998 revealed that there were 12,000 deaths a year from unnecessary surgery, 7,000 deaths a year from medication errors in hospitals, 20,000 deaths a year from other errors in hospitals, 80,000 deaths a year from infections in hospitals, and 106,000 deaths a year from non-error, adverse effects of medication. These deaths per year constituted the third leading cause of death in the United States - after deaths from heart disease and cancer, and way ahead of the next leading cause of death - cerebrovascular disease. (Starfield B. JAMA, 2000)

While recognizing that allopathic medicine has brought health gains to the country, it is obvious that it is becoming increasing difficult to sustain this form of healthcare.

Serious efforts should be given to considering other systems and to incorporating them into the mainstream healthcare delivery system. In other words, there should be pluralism in healthcare delivery.

We will not be alone, as many other countries are already promoting and integrating traditional systems of medicine into their national healthcare and delivery systems.

For instance, in China, traditional medicine systems are officially recognized and integrated into the healthcare system both centrally and at the provincial levels. Hospitals and colleges have been designated for the training in traditional systems.

China and Korea invested in establishing high quality educational and research institutions years ago. China runs over 40 top-level research institutions exclusively for traditional medicine.

India has been significantly increasing its budget for the promotion of traditional medicine practices such as ayurveda, sidha, unani, naturopathy, Tibetan medicine and homeopathy.

It has been reported that one in eight Singaporeans prefers traditional medical treatment over established Western medicines. There have been calls for increased research into these ancient cures.

Malaysia, being a multiracial country, had a rich base of traditional systems of healthcare which include Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous medicine. These non-Western or traditional systems of medicine were practiced for thousands of years before the advent of the colonial era. It was with the arrival of colonialism that they were gradually sidelined in favour of the western concept of medicine.

Now, different health systems tend to be practiced mostly in isolation from each other. By right, there need not be a rigid separation of these delivery systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) once pointed out that traditional medicine systems serve the health needs of about 80 percent of the world’s population and the goal of health for all cannot be achieved without traditional medicines.

There is a need to move away from the present obsession with only the modern system of medicine and turn to other systems that do not depend on sophisticated technology and other expensive modes of treatment delivery.

Traditional medicine colleges could be set up within existing university frameworks. Some training in Traditional Medicine systems could also be included in the present curriculum of medical schools and teaching hospitals. This would foster better understanding of traditional medicine practices.

There could also be active promotion of traditional systems of medicine by Ministries of Health in their national health programmes. Grants, incentives and other support mechanisms for training, research and setting up of facilities could also be encouraged.

More national and international conferences on traditional medical systems could be convened in order to promote and enhance the importance and to further encourage the understanding of these health systems.

Original article from:
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP),
No. 10, Jalan Masjid Negeri
11600 Penang, Malaysia.