Thursday, 21 January 2010

Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital for small town in South Africa

A story in the local newspaper of Heidelberg, Gauteng, caught my attention today:

"Traditional medicine, pharmaceutical plant to be included in new
Meiqui Hospital"

"Alternative healing hospital will boast pharmaceutical factory and
greenhouse plant for traditional herbs"

-- Heidelberg/Nigel Heraut, 20 Januarie 2010

The newspaper, the Heidelberg/Nigel Heraut reports the Lesedi Local Municipality was contacted by a Dr. Chia-Yuan (Richard) Yeh, who runs the Fishers Hill Clinic in Primrose (no website, but listed under "acupuncture").

His team proposed to build the hospital near Heidelberg. The hospital will "serve as a university hospital" for "nursing and medical staff". It will also include accommodation for "students", "a pharmaceutical factory and greenhouse plant where herbs they use will be grown".

Now this is great news for a small town like Heidelberg. Not only will the hospital use Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal cures, but also traditional African methods.

Why am I concerned?

I'm asking myself how a small town like Heidelberg can support a six-story "university hospital" and I'm wondering which "university" this would be.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is quite controversial and although not as overtly bogus as homeopathy and Reiki, is widely believed to be mostly effective because of the placebo effect.

But I don't feel concerned because of the implication for medicine, as such. Something about this project just has my alarm bells ringing, and I hope the relevant authorities look closely at the licensing and regulatory implications of this.

The last thing South Africans, with our stupidly high incidence of HIV/AIDS and TB need is another quack-solution packaged as a "university hospital" right in the middle of an area where funeral homes outnumber clinics about four to one.

Looking at the photo in the newspaper, it looks like this "hospital", with its six floors, will be significantly larger than the two existing hospitals in Heidelberg combined. How does that work, from an economic point of view?

A few points in the story contribute to my scepticism:

  • Apparently Witbank, a small city east of Johannesburg, was considered, but "no suitable venue" could be found. What does Witbank know, that Heidelberg doesn't?

  • The local municipality is "excited that this project will create many job opportunities". Apart from the construction period, what opportunities will exist? Since they will "train staff and nurses" where will these students work in South Africa? They won't be qualified to work in conventional hospitals, surely? Where will the students come from? Where will their qualifications be accredited, outside of this "hospital"?

  • A little sentence in the report also saddened me: "Apparently quite a few national high-profile politicians attend Dr. Yeh's clinic." (The existing one in Primrose.) Is it there they learn about the value of post-coital showers?

  • There is no mention in the article of the value of the proposed development, but Mr Banzi Majola, Executive Manager of Development and Planning at the Lesedi Local Municipality said that they "believe in partnerships that benefit the community." Partnerships? How much of a partner is the LLM in this venture? Do they have a stake in the venture itself? We don't know yet.

  • Finally, the name of the "hospital" will be the Meiqui Hospital. I guess its based on the Wade-Giles romanisation used in Taiwan, because I can't think of a pinyin (the official mainland Chinese romanisation) character "qui". The nearest I can think is Meiqi, meaning (probably) "comfortable". That's all cool, but how will South Africans pronounce "Meiqui", I ask you. You got it: "Meidjie".

Alternative healing isn't necessarily a bad thing, I know, but by now most of the benefits of traditional Chinese medicines have been incorporated into conventional, scientifically developed medicines, that can be produced more effectively and used with more confidence because of the tight regulations imposed on the pharmaceutical industry in the West. As long as traditional medicine, Eastern or African, is subjected to the same, stringent regulations, there should be no problem.

At this stage I'd like to know much more about this project, and about Dr Richard Yeh and his plans for this "hospital". I'd like to know what "partnership" the LLM envisages here, and how it will benefit the sorely lagging local economy.

This could be a great thing, or another total failure of South African local administration.

And that's my theory.

No comments:

Post a Comment