Health officials say that collaboration of traditional and modern medicine needs to be encouraged for patient safety and quality of healthcare.

This was discussed at the fourth biennial health conference held on September 16 in Thimphu.

Section 12.1 (a) of the National Health Policy 2011 states that the government shall continue to preserve and promote the traditional medicine system by effectively integrating it into the overall national healthcare delivery system.

Punakha’s chief medical officer, Choni Wangmo, said that there were cases where traditional medicine had healed patients and modern medicine didn’t. “Even I am a supporter of traditional medicine, but when patients ask whether traditional medicine is safe, I don’t know how to answer.”

Deputy chief physician, Drungtsho Tshering Penjor, said that the budget for traditional medicine needed to be allotted in huge package if traditional medicine ought to be strengthened. “If we go for quality-based services, we need to centralise a place from where to avail of traditional medicine services.”

He said that there would be mismatch and it would not be possible to carry out both activities of expanding units and providing quality based services at the same time.

Chief programme officer, Yangchen Chhoedon, said that among the challenges in strengthening traditional medicine services were sustainability of resources, limited research capacity in traditional medicine, lack of awareness, low utilisation of traditional medicine services, weak coordination, and limited central data system for medicinal resources.

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said that traditional medicine is time tested. “Traditional medicine is centuries old, so there should not be distrust about it.”

He said that there have been deaths due to traditional medicine; modern medicine too is causing deaths. “Traditional medicine should be maintained and not be mixed with modern medicine. It must be improved in the traditional area to preserve the practices.” However, he added that there were some harmful practices in the curriculum of traditional medicine.

He said that collaboration should not be mistaken for mixing of traditional and modern medicine. “Traditional and modern medicine need to co-exist and not be integrated,” he said.

Rinchen Zangmo