Traditional and complementary medicine practitioners to be regulated


SEVERAL groups of traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM) practitioners may soon have to start hunting for new jobs when the Health Ministry moves in to ban their trades, which have been deemed “unsafe” as they lacked scientific evidence.

The ministry, through its newly-established T&CM Council, is in the midst of identifying specific practices that will either be “legalised” or “criminalised” under the law that governs the council.

  The practices that may be banned include virtual surgery (bedah batin), leech therapy (bekam lintah) and machine acupuncture.

Deputy   director-general of health (medical) Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran told the New Sunday Times that the move to regulate and recognise certain T&CM practices was made to protect the public’s safety and health.

Putting the practices under the ambit of the T&CM law was also part of efforts to curb abuse by unscrupulous practitioners.

This also means that those providing services that are not allowed under the T&CM Act 2016 will be required to undergo a “conversion programme” or be forced to close shop.

 “We will give them enough time to convert their practices or seek other sources of income.”

 Explaining the lack of “scientific evidence” bit, Dr Jeyaindran said some practices have to be banned as they provide no guarantee on the safety of patients and allow unethical operators, who are solely driven by profit, to manipulate the public.

“For instance, though some say machine acupuncture is safe and less painful than normal acupuncture, there is no evidence to support its effectiveness.

“We have also banned therapies using leeches as the health risk is too great, considering infectious diseases can be transmitted when the same leech is used on another patient.”

The T&CM Council, which is to operate just like the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) in governing doctors in the country, will also be equipped with its own enforcement team to give it more bite.

Dr Jeyaindran said while the governing process was still in the interim stage, the council may immediately act against errant practitioners if complaints are lodged.

However, once the deadline for practitioners to register passes, Dr Jeyaindran said its enforcers would hit the ground and start knocking on doors to check on those providing T&CM services.

Failure to register or operating without a licence from the council may see offenders ending up in jail for up to three years and fined up to RM50,000.

“The council’s role is similar to that of the MMC... ensuring that there is no misconduct or failure to adhere to the standards set. The main objective is to ensure that T&CM practices in Malaysia are safe and carried out ethically.

“For this to happen, we must ensure that the practitioners are adequately trained and competent. Before this (the enforcement of T&CM Act 2016), practitioners can practically do whatever they want. But now, the minute they break the rules, we will come after them,” he said.

 As of August last year, 17,826 T&CM practitioners had registered with eight bodies that are sanctioned by the ministry to represent Malay, Islamic, Indian, Chinese, homeopathy and complementary medicine.

“The Health Ministry believes that the number of unregistered T&CM practitioners is double the number of those who have done so,” said Dr Jeyaindran.

The conversion programme for existing practitioners who have been plying their trade with no formal training, let alone certified to practice, will compel them to study critical modules.

The modules cover, among others, the importance of patient confidentiality, medical ethics and hygiene, as well as exams to test their competency.

Dr Jeyaindran said those wondering what the programme is all about may refer to the process and training that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have undergone.

“The programme required those aged 55 and above to undergo a short course, whereas the younger ones have to go for training programmes of between six and eight weeks to improve their skills and competency.

“The response we got from traditional Chinese medicine practitioners was overwhelming. One of them was a 70-year-old man who still had what it takes to continue practising.”

The ministry, he said, had made arrangements for T&CM graduates to go for training under several recognised practitioners.

He also pointed out that up to 20,000 unregistered practitioners do have valid certification.  

The ministry puts the same number on those who will have to undergo its conversion programme.

  Those certified to practice will be issued an annual “practising certificate”, which they have to display on their premises, Dr Jeyaindran said.

T&CM practitioners, he added, would also have to register all the herbs and medication they prescribed to patients.

“These practitioners need to get their herbs registered... our pharmaceutical bureau needs to make sure they are free of contaminants, such as mercury, steroids and heavy metals. 

 “That is why the herbs they use must be registered with the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency. 

 “Our collaboration with the Indian government will also allow us to identify whether the herbs and medication that Indian traditional medicine practitioners prescribe are bona fide, or whether the pharmaceutical processes meet the Good Manufacturing Product standard,” he said.