Traditional medicine meets modern training as Cambodia certifies traditional healers
August 11, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Although most people strongly believe in modern scientific medical treatment, traditional medicine – and traditional methods of treatment – remain indispensable for many members of Cambodian society.
More than 400 traditional Khmer healers have undergone training and been recognized by the Ministry of Health, according to Chan Sophan, deputy director of the National Center for Traditional Medicine.
In order to be licensed by the ministry, healers must meet certain criteria, including at least five years of experience. Once they meet them and pass an entrance exam, they will be admitted to a five-month course at the center.
Sophan, himself a pharmacist, told the Post that 10 classes have been conducted.
An ancient art
Traditionally, Cambodian healers learn their skills from relatives, most often their parents. This leaves the potential for a wide variety of viewpoints and techniques. The training aims to correct this and standardize the trade.
“The courses take place over five months. We don’t require the same depth of knowledge as a modern medical degree, but of course to be admitted to the course healers need to be experienced,” Sophan said.
He said the aim of the course is to share knowledge and professional awareness, so that traditional healers understand the ethics demanded by the industry.
“The first Khmer traditional healer training was initiated by the Nippon Foundation of Japan. They have supported six training courses, which started in 2009. The last of the Japanese-sponsored courses was in 2017,” he added.
Between 2018 and 2022, four courses have been planned by the Association of Cambodian Traditional Healers, at the request of the center. Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions have resulted in the cancellation of planned trainings from 2019.
Meet the healers
Phon Samedy, started his career as a traditional healer in 2011. He was encouraged to learn the craft by his father, also a healer.
After consultations with – and encouragement from – older, more experienced healers, he passed the entrance exam in 2018.
Based in Sangkat Boeung Tumpun, Khan Meanchey, Phnom Penh, he treats his neighbors as well as patients from outside villages. Earlier this year, he claimed, he treated his own gastrointestinal illness with great success.
Since its recognition by the national center, it has treated more than 800 patients. For a man still in his 40s, that’s a big number.
“If I have more patients than most of my peers, it’s because I like going out and meeting people. Many of them have health problems, and combining my scientific knowledge with my skills in traditional medicine has been very good for my career,” he said.
“Although I did not discover any new traditional medicine, my experiences with the formulas left by the previous generation of healers taught me a lot. In addition, taking the course has also greatly enriched my knowledge,” he added.
He also mentioned how traditional medicine and modern medicine go hand in hand in hospitals in most countries in the region.
“In China, or in many ASEAN countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore, to qualify as a traditional healer, you have to study for years, just like modern doctors,” he said. -he declares.
“In their hospitals, traditional medicine and modern medicine have equal value. If a patient is diagnosed with a symptom, they will be asked whether they prefer traditional or modern medicine. Both sectors share the same value in saving people’s lives,” he said.
Seng Sam Ath, is 43 years old. Like Samedy, he inherited his knowledge from his father. He has been practicing in Anlong Veng District of Oddar Meanchey Province for over a decade. During this period, he estimates that he consulted nearly 1,000 patients.
He believed that there was room for both modern and traditional medicine, and that both carried risks.
“Both can have a significant effect on a patient’s well-being, indeed it is possible to overdose on either one. This is why modern doctors and traditional healers need qualifications to practice,” he said.
He also claimed that there were even some forms of cancer that could be treated the traditional way, without resorting to surgery or chemotherapy.
A grateful patient
One of Samedy’s patients – Tob Pisey, a 39-year-old policeman from Kep town and province – was treated for gastroenteritis and high cholesterol. After four or five months of treatment, he said, he was fully recovered.
“I have complete confidence in him. Not only did I recover quickly, but it cost me less than the modern medicine – which didn’t work – that I used before,” Pisey said.
He said Samedy was recommended to him by his officials in the civil service.
“I was often sick with gastrointestinal problems and my cholesterol was very high. He prescribed me several kinds of traditional medicines and I recovered. He also advised me on foods that I should avoid”, did he declare.
To work in pairs
As Managing Director of Meetheng (Cambodia) Ltd., a large pharmaceutical company, Heng Vicheth has 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry. He said both forms of medicine are equally important, but cautioned against unregulated products, often sold as traditional medicine.
He said that in developed countries, traditional medicine and herbal medicine were two completely different categories, while in Cambodia they were often considered the same.
“Traditional medicine has generally not been tested or refined to laboratory standards. Herbal medicine is sometimes called ‘mid-era traditional medicine’ because it has been tested and the active ingredients are present in carefully measured amounts,” he told The Post.
“Some traditional medicines did not remove toxins – an example is the tinospora crispa plant, which we soak in wine and drink as traditional medicine. It can be dangerous if not prepared properly. In general , traditional medicine imported from the United States or India, for example, has GMP standards and is recognized by the ISO system, which means that it will be safe and effective.
“Modern and traditional medicines can work together very effectively, provided that manufacturers and sellers of traditional medicine respect the law governing medicines and maintain high standards. Sometimes traditional medicine is more effective than modern pharmaceutical treatment,” he concluded.