August 12, 2007

Going Traditional With Treatment

By Annie Freeza Cruez

Traditional and complementary medicine is big business and the government is getting into it in a big way. ANNIE FREEDA CRUEZ gets a whiff of what therapeutic treatment will be available and what direction the Health Ministry is heading.

AFTER a stressful day at work or a long and difficult journey, there is nothing so refreshing than to ease into the warm, swirling waters of a traditional hot tub.

Feel the tension dissipating, and your aching bones and strained muscles soothed.

This hot tub will be available to you at the exclusive Wellness Centre to be opened in Putrajaya soon.

This government-run centre will not just offer you traditional aromatic baths and massages, but also your choice of a whole range of traditional and complementary medicine, Ayurvedic, Malay or Chinese.

This centre will be set up at the Malaysian National Institute for Natural Products, Vaccines and Biologicals (9Bio) by 2009.

9Bio chief executive officer Datuk Dr Nor Shahidah Khairullah said the centre, which would also conduct research and development, would essentially be a therapy haven.

The centre will offer Ayurveda and Siddhar therapies for a start, a programme in collaboration with experts from India.

"We will also promote transcendental meditation," said Dr Nor Shahidah. "This meditation promotes peaceful living and is also a supportive therapy for people who have mental stress, suffer from chronic diseases such as cancer, and for general well-being."

The Wellness Centre will have a wing for clinical trials and another for day spa for tired minds and muscles.

"The centre will be included in the medical tourism list, said Dr Nor Shahidah. "Both locals and foreigners can not only consult allopathic practitioners in government and private hospitals but also world renowned traditional and complementary medicine practitioners."

The Wellness Centre is timely as Malaysians, as with people from all over the world, are increasingly turning to the old and tested ways when it comes to health.

Malaysians are expected to spend more than RM1 billion on traditional and complementary medicines in 2020.

Director-general of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said this estimate was based on the trend which showed that consumer spending on traditional and complementary medicine had risen from RM272 million in 2000 to almost RM400 million currently.

"The government will ensure that all plans to integrate traditional and complementary medicines are carried out carefully," said Dr Ismail.

"This includes giving due consideration to the safety and medico- legal aspects, religious sensitivities and local culture.

Dr Ismail said integrating traditional and complementary medicine into the Malaysian healthcare system would result in a more holistic approach to treatment.

In Malaysia, traditional and complementary medicine has been divided into five groups with the formation of five practitioner bodies - Malay, Chinese, Indian, complementary and homeopathy.

More than 7,000 traditional and complementary medicine practitioners were registered last year.

"Malaysia's approach is now towards integrated medicine where people can benefit from both systems."

Integrated medicine, Dr Ismail said, focused on health and healing rather than disease and treatment.

The Wellness Centre is dedicated to providing optimum health care using the best methods of modern and complementary medicine.

The centre will conduct research, both internally and externally, as well as offer programmes in meditation, yoga, and healthy eating and weight management.

It will offer counselling on leading a healthy lifestyle to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCD).

Seven out of 10 Malaysian adults suffer from at least one NCD, including diabetes, hypertension or cancer.

Latest Health Ministry statistics show that 11.6 million of the 16 million adults nationwide suffer from a NCD, and the number is expected to increase to 13 million by 2015.

Health Ministry deputy disease control director Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar blamed the situation on the lifestyle of Malaysians, which included higher use of tobacco, unhealthy diet and inactivity.

He said changes in the economic, social and demographic aspects of Malaysian life had led to a rise in NCD and it accounted for 51 per cent of all deaths in the country.

The master plan for 9Bio consists of a new bio-containment research and development facility that includes laboratories, a vivarium space, a bio-manufacturing facility and an on-site residential facility.

The ministry already has a natural products complex, which deals with research and development on natural products, and herbal medicine clinical trials in animals and humans.

This background will allow the ministry to have herbal collaboration with other countries.

"There is a lot of clinical trials and herbal drug development in India," said Dr Nor Shahidah. "We are planning to have a collaboration with India in relation to raw material, approach, traditional medicine, and research development."

Dr G.S. Lavekar, who is the director of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha (CCRAS) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India, said the prospects for collaboration were strong as both nations were rich in bio-diversity and had strong traditional heritage.

"This collaboration will be complementary and supplementary to each other and India would like to take this opportunity to bring up traditional medicine at scientific level for the masses."

Malaysia, he said, had shown interest in the field of Ayurvedic and Siddhar medicine when top government officials visited India a few months ago.

In India, scientific research in Ayurveda is largely undertaken by CCRAS, a statutory body of the central government, through a national network of research institutes.

India already has collaboration with Britain, United States, and other governments in Europe.

"We are happy to have herbal collaboration with Malaysia on training, education, drug development of single herb and standardisation."

Dr Lavekar said they were happy to start Ayurvedic and Siddhar treatment and procedures for people for overall health well being.

One of the areas they would stress on, he said, was the pandcharkarma (the five actions), a collection of purification techniques that Ayurveda prescribes for some diseases and for periodic cleansing.

A course of pancharkarma typically includes a short-term dietary prescription, massage, herbs, and may include purgatives, sweat baths, medicated enemas and nasal cleansing.

Dr Lavekar said Ayurvedic massage was a form of treatment for various age-related and other common disorders.

Some of the advantages are pain relief, improved circulation, stress relief, better sleep, flexibility, better athletic performance and emotional benefits.

Sounds promising? Keep a look out for the opening of the Putrajaya Wellness Centre.

(c) 2007 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.