Survey on to standardize local healers

In an effort to standardize local healers in the country, the Department of Traditional Medicine Services (DTMS) is conducting a survey across the country.

The survey aims to document useful and harmful practices of local healers and to identify and segregate between traditional medicine practitioners and local healers as people tend to believe that local healers are drungtshos from the DTMS.

“A person who treats both physical and mental illness by applying the knowledge, skills and practices based on indigenous experiences, culture and tradition of different places or a person is a local healer,” states a DTMS notice.

According to DTMS, useful practices are effective or efficacious practice by local healers to provide treatment in the communities whereas harmful practices are those causing harm or hazardous to health.

From treating snake bites to nursing epilepsy patients and orally sucking out ‘impurities’ from the female organ, traditional healing practices in the country comprise numerous orthodox and uncanny ways and have been practiced for generations.

The treatment method by the local healers include using herbs, roots, animal parts, stones, bloodletting, burning skin, correcting dislocation/fractures, horn draining and sucking genitalia combined with rituals.

Other practices practiced by the local healers are using herbs, minerals, and driving evil spirits by Shamans (Pawo/Pamo).

Talking to Business Bhutan, the program officer at DTMS, Sonam Lhundrup, said that the survey is not to restrict local healers from practicing but to advocate local healers on useful and harmful treatments.

He added that harmful practices need to be stopped. “We may have to discourage local healers carrying out harmful practices in the future as it is very risky,” he said.

The first survey which was conducted in Pemagatshel in 2014 revealed that that 200 local healers were practising in the Dzongkhag, but it is estimated that there are over 2,000 local healers across the country.

However, Sonam Lhundrup said that not many local healers are willing to come forward as they are skeptical and fear being punished.

“It is difficult to get the accurate number of local healers when they fear to come out,” he said, adding that the survey is important to impart information on transmission of diseases and infections.

Sonam Lhundrup said that not many healers are aware of infections or transmission of diseases. “They have no idea about infectious diseases or contagious diseases,” he said. As of February this year, DTMS has covered three more Dzongkhags apart from Pemagatshel. It plans to cover another 10 Dzongkhags by the end of this financial year. “We proposed a fund of Nu 2.8mn to conduct surveys in the remaining 16 Dzongkhags, however, only two million was approved,” said Sonam Lhundrup, adding that due to the lack of budget, the survey for the remaining six Dzongkhags will be conducted next year. The whole survey is expected to be completed in 2019.

The survey of the local healers aims to identify the types of local healing practices in the country as local practices differ from place to place in different parts of the country.

Sonam Lhundrup also said that while some healers treated patients for free, some charged a fee of Nu 300 to Nu 1,000. The survey from Pemagatshel revealed that almost 92% of the healers in the district provided free services while 8% charge some kind of fees.

“We met a healer who made herbal medicines. His medicine per bottle cost Nu 400,” said Sonam Lhundrup.

According to him, the data and information from the survey is intended to guide the program to integrate useful practices into traditional medicine services and develop safety standards in the future.

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu