People from poor communities needing medical services in this city, or anywhere else in Mindanao, usually make do with whatever is available due to the scarcity of resources and lack of professional help. When one consults with the village health worker, the usual advice is “Inom ka lang ng maraming tubig (Just drink a lot of water).”
Thus, it is not surprising that traditional Chinese medicine has become an alternative cure for a Church-based center that opened here two weeks ago.
“The cost of Western medicine is expensive and not all people can afford it,” said Mae Stephanie Q. Cu, manager of the Archdiocese Health and Wellness Center that operates under the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro.
The word “wellness” might be puzzling choice but it refers to promoting a healthy lifestyle for the poor.
“Oftentimes, wellness is associated with the booming spa industry. But it is ridiculous to design a spa wellness program for communities that cannot even afford to buy medicine for simple colds or diarrhea,” she said.
The center offers centuries-old options such as acupressure and acupuncture. It also has an integrated training program for health workers from remote barangays of the city. The objective is to promote a healthy lifestyle even among residents of poor communities.
“[During the 1980s and the 1990s], you could rarely hear about alternative modalities,” said Edgardo D. Tigulo, the center’s lecturer and a certified acupuncturist of the Philippine Institute of Traditional Alternative Care.
Now, [alternative care] is widely practiced in Cagayan de Oro through its blind masseurs. Metro Manila has a lot of acupuncture centers and the Philippines invites tourists to its wellness resorts.
“However, the Philippine government still has no regulating body for traditional medicine,” Mr. Tigulo said. Although he was given the title, Oriental Medical Doctor (OMD), when he graduated from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, he can only be a certified acupuncturist and not a doctor in this country.
“Although these practices have been long present in various parts of the country, it is only recently that they have entered mainstream medicine,” he said.
Acupuncture is supposed to have been introduced in the country as early as ’60s but it was often associated with the Leftist movement.
“In the ’70s, community health workers from the Archdiocesan Health Apostolate trained barangay volunteers in Northern Mindanao,” said Dorotea T. Colminares, a volunteer at the center.
“However, in 1980s, our barangay, Bayanga, was declared a critical area and anyone caught with needles and other medical kits were accused of being medics of the New Peoples’ Army,” she said.
“We were forced to bury complete kits that the health workers gave us. Up to now, we are still hesitant to practice this again for fear of being called rebels,” Ms. Colminares said.
Despite this, the system is gaining ground in the health sector, said Mr. Tigulo.
“I would not state it has an ’advantage’ over mainstream medicine. Rather, it is complementary. It is very good for functional diseases and chronic conditions such as asthma and dysmenorrhea. Instead of taking in synthetic pain relievers, acupuncture is a safer way to relieve patients of the pain,” he said.
This modality has also been known to cure Bell’s palsy, facial paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, infertility, obesity and other ailments that would cost one — in Western medical treatment — an arm and a leg. People have also recognized acupuncture’s ability to enhance the feeling of well-being.
“Generally, if you feel good, you have a stronger ability to cope with stress, you have more resistance to illness. With traditional modalities, not only is the treatment cheaper than synthetic medicines. It actually prevents you from getting sick,” said Mr. Tigulo.
Traditional modalities include the balance of the Yin and Yang, the Zang Fu organ theory, and the Five Phases that interconnect the main internal organs of the body.
“This is very appropriate for communities in the hinterlands. We already practice this but we just don’t know the theory behind our grandparents’ ’homemade’ cures,” said wellness center manager Ms. Cu.
“For example, with diarrhea, we are often advised to eat bananas. It can be explained simply by the yin and yang theory. Since diarrhea has a yang characteristic — it is expanding — we have to counter it with something that would suppress it. The banana has a yin characteristic,” she said.
“Hopefully, we could have a resource listing of the indigenous fruits and herbs in the region so we could help classify them for medications. Mindanao is rich with natural resources we could maximize.”
There are still years ahead for these alternative medicines. But low-cost cures remain available to Filipinos. A truckload of katsubong and lagundi could take care of hundreds if not thousands of sick people in depressed and remote communities much more than a plain glass of water. — Louise G. Dumas