Cambodia’s traditional medical doctors, some of whom claim they can cure HIV/AIDS, will soon be required to register with the government, according to Minister of Health Hong Sun Hout.
The traditional healers will also have to disclose their methods of treatment and ingredients used in their medicine. Also, traditional doctors, known as kru Khmers, will need permission from ministry officials before they advertise their services on television and radio, Hong Sun Hout said.
“They cheat people,” Hong Sun Hout said. “How can we believe that one kind of their medicine can treat 100 different kinds of diseases?”
Many Cambodians hold beliefs about health care that are not based on science, such as that breast-feeding immediately after childbirth will make a baby sick. Others believe that being sick means ancestors are angry.
While some traditional remedies have been endorsed in the West as good for helping with discomfort, ranging from common colds to child labor, health experts in Cambodia have said that it is doing more harm than good. Traditional medicine, they say, has caused people to spend more money than necessary or receive care that is ineffective or causes negative side effects.
Some traditional treatments can even cause blindness or sterility in men, health experts say.
In recent years, many traditional healers have begun mixing traditional medicine with modern medicine, Hong Sun Hout said.
He said that is a dangerous practice because it can cause people to form a resistance to medicine that could help them if taken properly.
Ly Bunnarith, who has been in the kru Khmer business since 1981, said he will refuse to follow the ministry’s order to disclose his methods and unique medicine.
He said the ministry has asked him for the names of his medicines, expiration dates, what diseases his medicines treat and what kinds of tree roots and leaves he uses. He said the ministry has asked for $20 to register each type of treatment he uses.
“But if I issue my formula, I will just be telling other people how to do my medicine,” he said.
Ly Bunnarith said in the past that his special herbs can cure Hepatitis B and AIDS. He says he has at least a 60 percent success rate for all of his treatments.
Turning to kru Khmers who say they can cure AIDS has been one of the most dangerous health care trends in recent years. Out of desperation, many people with AIDS turn to traditional medicines, hoping they can be healed by herbs and the spirits, health officials say.
Moun Vanna, president of the Khmer Traditional Doctor’s Association, said he supports the Ministry of Health’s campaign to register traditional doctors. He said there are 56 doctors in the association, and at least 20 have registered with the ministry.
“If a kru Khmer is a good doctor, they won’t mind following the ministry’s decision,” he said.