The Jakarta Globe, Dessy Sagita, March 10, 2009
A research center for traditional herbal medicine set up by the Ministry of Health is increasingly finding itself having to dispense medical services to an increasing number of patients.
The Hortus Medicus Herbal Clinic, set up within the facilities of the Health Ministry’s Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine Research Office in Tawangmangu, Central Java Province, was originally established for research purposes, its director, Yuning Prapti told the Jakarta Globe.
But patients began coming in to seek medical treatment using herbal medicines soon after the center opened its doors in mid-2008, she said.
“Although this is a research clinic, hundreds of patients interested in getting traditional medication come every month,” Yuning said, adding that the clinic’s staff were beginning to be overwhelmed by the number of patients.
“They even demanded that we stay open on the weekend,” Yuning said of the patients.
She said most of the patients came to the clinic to receive treatment for noncommunicable diseases such as gastric problems, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and muscle problems.
Yuning said the clinic used standard medical equipment and diagnostic methods, and was staffed by medical doctors, but prescribed herbal remedies.
But she said if doctors deemed a patient’s illness could not be treated by traditional or herbal cures, they would refer the patient to the nearest hospital.
“We have to remember that most herbal and traditional medicines work slower than modern drugs, in line with their relatively more manageable side effects,” she said.
Yuning said the ministry had been inspired to set up the clinic by the abundance of medical and education institutions dealing with traditional and herbal medicines in China.
However, Sukman Tulus Putra, vice chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association, said that such medical services carried a risk since very few traditional medicines had been clinically proven to be beneficial.
“Until now we don’t have scientific evidence as to whether or not traditional and herbal medicines are safe,” he said.
Sukman said traditional treatments were only recommended if clinical trials had found the medicines to be safe and beneficial.
“For a country like China, where the research is strong, it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “But I’m not really sure that Indonesia is ready to face the same challenge.”
Yuning said the clinic put more emphasis on patients’ post-treatment status compared to conventional medical centers, and that patients with specific illnesses had to present their complete medical histories to receive herbal treatment.
“We regularly monitor the patients to determine whether or not the treatment is working,” she said.
Yuning said that recently, the clinic had begun to see patients not only from surrounding areas, but from other provinces as well.
However, she said there was no plan to turn the clinic into a commercial venture. The clinic, she said, does not charge patients for consultations or diagnoses, with patients only required to pay for the medicines.
“We won’t turn this clinic into a commercial clinic to treat lots of patients, but we do have a formula for cooperating with any hospital willing to adopt our methods,” Yuning said.
She said a number of hospitals had conveyed an interest in implementing the clinic’s traditional medicine concepts, and that the clinic was willing to provide samples of traditional medicines and train hospitals in their use.
Yuning said one of the main attractions of traditional herbal medicines was that they cost less than conventional medicines.
Some patients, she said, were also tired of using synthetic drugs prescribed by modern medical centers because of the side effects that often accompanied these medicines.