Practitioners of traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM) in the country may soon have to reconsider their trades and practices, as the Health Ministry’s T&CM council is currently reviewing practices of alternative treatment to identify which should be regulated, or even banned, under the law that governs the council.

The alternative treatments that may soon be prohibited by the council include bedah batin (spiritual surgery), bekam lintah (leech therapy) and machine acupuncture – all of which have been deemed “unsafe” as they lack scientific evidence.

Regulation of T&CM practices to protect public safety

According to deputy director-general of health (medical) Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran, some of these practices do not guarantee the patient’s safety, but unethical, profit-driven practitioners use the opportunity 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,” he said.

“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 move to regulate and legalise certain T&CM practices under the law was aimed to protect the public’s wellbeing and safety, as well as to curb the abuse of practice by unscrupulous practitioners, Dr Jeyaindran explained.

Many practitioners yet to register with Health Ministry

As of August last year, 17,826 T&CM practitioners of Malay, Islamic, Indian, Chinese, homeopathy as well as complementary medicine have registered with bodies that are sanctioned by the Health Ministry. However, there may be many others who have yet to register their practice.

“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.

While the governing process by the T&CM Council is currently still in the interim stage, it may act against errant practitioners immediately, Jeyaindran said, adding that enforcers will check on individuals who provide T&CM service once the deadline for registration has passed.

Should a practitioner fail to register, or operate his practice without a license from the council, the offender may face a jail term of up to three years and be 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.

Herbs and traditional medicines to be registered with NPRA

Individuals who provide T&CM services that are prohibited will be mandated to undergo a “conversion programme”, failing which they would be forced to close their practice, Jeyaindran said.

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

The conversion programme will require practitioners with no formal training or certification to study critical modules which cover topics such as patient confidentiality, medical ethics and hygiene, and will include exams to test their competency – similar to the process and training that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have undergone.

All T&CM practitioners who are certified to practice will be issued an annual “practising certificate” and must display their certification on their premises. They must also register all herbs and medications that are 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,” Jeyaindran said.

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

“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. MIMS

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