09 October 2012

Traditional and Modern Medicine

Thailand is a country caught between historical traditions and the fast pace lifestyle in modern day society. This is clearly shown in Thailand’s medical system and the government’s attempts to integrate traditional and modern medicine.

The Bangkok Declaration on Traditional medicine claims “to promote further integration of Traditional Medicine, Complementary and Alternative Medicine into the health care system services as a part of comprehensive national health systems, including the use of traditional medicine in the primary health care; and to develop specific activities to enhance collaboration in Traditional Medicine by involving practitioners and providers, industries, on-profit and professional organisations, academia, communities as well as partner organisations as key partners.” ("Bangkok Declaration on tradition medicine in ASEAN”) The government has created a large push to incorporate herbal medicine into hospitals, schools, and clinics all over Thailand. Med school students are also required to take classes in herbal medicine when training in their specialties.

During Unit 1, our group met with practitioners from the Kudchum hospital in Yasothon province. In 1990, doctors at Kudchum hospital, under government pressure finally integrated herbal medicine into their practices. Today, most patients receive both herbal and traditional medicine. The hospital now has a traditional Thai healer and its own herbal factory that was donated by an outside benefactor. The most common diseases that the hospital treats are diabetes, hypertension, dyspepsia, pharyngitis and diarrhea.
In 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra (the prime minister of Thailand at the time) installed the 30 baht healthcare program. This program was used to guarantee equitable health care to even Thailand’s poorest citizens and is available for all people not covered by social security. It allows anyone to go to a hospital and receive the treatment and the medicines they need for no more than 30 baht. This program is especially beneficial to farmers who make up approximately 40% of the labor force. This is because farmers exist outside the formal medical plans and don’t have access to social security. The 30 Baht law extended health coverage to approximately 18.5 million Thais who previously had did not have any insurance (Phongsathorn 194-210). Although this policy benefited many people, who would otherwise be unable to afford proper medical care, others have chosen to opt out of the plan because they can afford to, aren’t confident they will get the best service and are frustrated by the bureaucracy and extremely long wait times.
Our group also met Mr. Kiang, a local medicine man and herbal specialist who works at Kudchum hospital and in the villages of Yastoton province. His goal is not only to keep herbal medicine alive and relevant in today’s world but also to expand the reach of herbal medicine hospitals all across Thailand. He wants people to know and understand the rich healing culture, where and what there medicine comes from and not be blinded by high tech machines and modern technologies. Kiang believes that it is crucial to find the proper balance between spirituality and science. He also believes that although herbal medicine might take longer to work and immediate results might be less apparent, it is more sustainable than modern medicine, less invasive, less costly and eventually, equally effective. For Mr. Kiang, success would be defined as providing access to herbal medicine for all of his villagers, supplying local hospitals with traditional medicines and passing down the knowledge, to keep the tradition of herbal Thai medicine alive.
In the future, it will be interesting to see whether herbal medicines will continue to be used and incorporated into additional Thai hospitals. Many people are skeptical of it and just want to get the Western medicine they need to feel better as quickly as possible. Although it might be quicker, herbal medicine is an effective treatment for many ailments, is better for the environment, is completely natural, less invasive to the body, less costly and is deeply rooted in Thai culture. In the future, herbal medicine specialists, like Kiang, will continue to work to insure that the Thai medical community, patients, doctors and hospitals will all continue to incorporate traditional medicine into their practices.

Mekala Pavlin
Tulane University


Sydney Sapper said...

I’m glad you wrote about this, Mekala. Looking at traditional vs. modern medicine wasn’t really in our unit, but I think it was a great opportunity and I found it fascinating. I think its really wonderful that Mr. Kriang is embracing the new and the old and having them work together to strengthen medical practices as a whole. His view on globalization as something positive, if used correctly, is a good example that we can bring with us as we look at communities struggling between what they’ve always known and the new information being presented to them. Instead of having to choose between one or the other, the integration of best practices makes for a better society as proven by Kriang and Kudchum hospital. And even the skeptical, like me, have been proving wrong… when I went to the hospital I was amazed by the herbal remedy I was given and how well it worked.

Hannah said...

I loved learning about traditional medicine during unit 1. It offered such a different perspective into the medical system in Thailand. And although the debate regarding the effectiveness of herbal medicine will always be present, it is difficult to argue the ability for traditional medicine to stimulate the local economy. The price of conventional medicine is absurdly high when compared to traditional medicine because it’s subject to the global economy. Instead of supporting huge pharmaceutical companies, which distribute their drugs worldwide, Thai traditional medicine supports local economies; buying from local farmers, offering lower costs to local patients, providing local jobs, and also lower hospital costs for the government.
I think this is exactly why the Thai government has supported the construction of several Thai Traditional Medicine Center’s in the last 10 years. It seems logical that as long as there is a demand for Thai traditional medicine, the Thai government will continue to provide this service. Cutting costs and supporting the national economy, prompting Thai traditional medicine to make resurgence in Thai hospitals and culture.

Nicole Hale said...

What I find most important about Traditional medicine is not only that it supports the local economy, but it supports local culture. Thai traditional medicine is almost one with Buddhism which is the driving force of most villagers lives. For instance, traditional doctors in Thailand follow buddhist precepts in how to conduct themselves as doctors. After all, Mr. Kraing first learned about traditional medicine while being a monk and he now has buddhist prayers on all his medicine labels. Traditional medicine respects local wisdom therefore promoting culture rather than replacing it with modern solutions.

Mr. Kriang sparked the most interest in me during this unit. I think it is because his wisdom and work are rooted deeply in Thai culture and tradition while also adapting to modern society. This can be seen in his drive to integrate both traditional and modern medicine within Thailand. In comparison to the villagers we met, Mr. Kraing seems to be the most conventional and I find this very inspiring. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to interview Mr. Kraing. He talked a lot about living with nature rather than on it, being people based versus profit based, using the spiritual and logical, and much more. I think that the Thai health care system could learn a thing or two just from the way he approaches his work.

Sean Burke said...

I was very excited to learn about herbal medicine during Unit 1 through our exchange with Mr. Kiang. I would go as far to say that it was probably my favorite exchange in the whole unit. I think it was important that our group get a different perspective on the Thai medical system by hearing about traditional medicine first hand from an herbal medicine specialist. Our exchange with Mr. Kiang really resonated with me. As a Public Health major, I know a good amount about the medical system in the United States, but not at all about the one used here in Thailand. As Nicole mentioned, I think a really fascinating component of traditional medicine is that it supports the local economy and at the same time continues important cultural practices. Coincidentally, I happened to have a cold when we met with Mr. Kiang. After noticing that I was sniffling a bit, he offered me an herbal remedy for my congestion, free of charge. Maybe it was purely psychological, but the stuff really worked. After using it for a couple of days, I got better in no time. I think there is something to be said about medicine that is produced locally and is deeply rooted in the culture. Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that traditional medicine goes hand in hand with Buddhism, which is practiced by virtually all villagers. A few of us students were lucky enough to meet with a Buddhist monk who incorporates traditional healing medicine into his work as a spiritual healer. This was a very special experience for me. After this exchange, it hit me just how complementary traditional medicine and Buddhism really are. I look forward to sharing these stories concerning herbal medicine with my professors and peers at my home university.

Galen Hiltbrand said...

Thanks, Mekala; I really enjoyed this blog post. Just like everyone else, I also appreciated our opportunity to exchange with Mr. Kriang. My oldest sister runs a school of holistic herbalism in North Carolina, so I grew up using her natural remedies whenever she was in town. This has instilled in me an appreciation for traditional medicine from a young age. What I was surprised yet relieved to hear Mr. Kriang say is that he also understands that using modern medicine is sometimes a better option. My sister is avoids of using modern medicine at all costs, even though she is in serious need of a hip replacement. From what I have seen in the United States, hospitals share this same skepticism of herbal medicine and solely rely upon modern medicine. This is why I so admire Thailand’s initiative to incorporate both traditional and modern medicine in their hospitals, breaking down this divide that does not need to exist.

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