Tshering Peldon, 70, enters Yuthok Traditional Herbal Medicine Centre on the first floor of Karma Khanzang on Norzin Lam, Thimphu. The room is dimly lit. Terraces of bottled traditional medicines sit on the shelves. A bespectacled man in white coat swivels on the chair.
A strong smell of rot follows Tshering Peldon. She has cervical cancer. Her friend has advised her to consult the man in white coat, Choeda Singye, who runs the shop. Choeda’s patients say that his medicines are better than modern drugs from the hospitals. On the wall of the clinic are picture of patients Choeda has cured, mostly cancer patients who could not be cured by modern medication. Among them are the picture of two foreigners, one from Germany and other from France.
The pills, thousands of them on the shelves, are called Rinchen (precious) pills. They are expensive. The most expensive ones cost Nu 75 a pill. Choeda brings most of these pills from Nepal and Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. Rinchen pills are powerful. Choeda claims to have cured more than 200 cancer patients.
“Seven different types of Rinchen pills that I have will cure about 404 major health problems,” says forty-year-old Choeda.
But his increasing popularity has not come without cost. A patient he had cured had talked about his treatment to a local newspaper. KezangTashi, the patient, who suffered from ‘synapse black disease’, had lost all hope. A few months after taking medication from Choeda, Kezang was fully cured. Investigation by Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) followed and Choeda was threatened that his practice be stopped although he had the licence to practise.
“They [DRA] were simply jealous. I could cure patients who the doctors had given up on,” says Choeda. “Even though traditional medicine has proven more effective, DRA doesn’t want to encourage traditional medicine.”
However, DRA’s drug controller, SonamDorji, said that Yuthok Traditional Herbal Medicine Centre is a medical shop, not a clinic and that Choeda cannot do treatment on the patients. He can only prescribe medicines.
“That doesn’t make any sense. It’s the medicine that I prescribe to the patients that does the treatment,” says Choeda.
More than 10 patients suffering from all kinds of illnesses ranging from diabetes, ulcer and paralysis of limbs to severe headaches and nasal infection visit his shop every day.
Choeda completed his Class X from the erstwhile Semtokha Rigzhung Lobdra and later worked at National Institute of Traditional Medicine (NITM) in Kawajangsa, Thimphu. He did his Master of Science in Traditional Medicine from Shelkar Tibetan Medical Institute in Nepal. ChoedaSingye is also a gold medalist from Indian Board of Alternative Medicine.
Choeda says with visible pride, “Most of the patients who visit my clinic are those who could not be cured by modern medicine. Some of them had advanced cancer. I have cured them all.’ He refers patients with more complicated disease to NITM.
When Choeda started his clinic in Phuentsholing in 2003, his was the first private traditional clinic specialising in traditional medicine. In 2009, Choeda set up his shop in Thimphu. Sometimes, he offers free treatment for minor cases and charges only for medicine.
“We should create options for our people to seek the help of either traditional medicine or modern medicine. Not doing so is denying them the opportunity. And that is wrong,” says Choeda.
For every brand of medicine that Choeda imports, he has to get a ‘token’ for which he has to pay Nu 150.Each brand has to be then registered, which costs him Nu 1,500.
“I feel that the government should introduce more traditional medicine outlets in all the dzongkhags. Our people need options choose traditional medicine or modern. Some diseases that cannot be cured by modern medicine can be cured by traditional medicine,” says Choeda.
Choeda believes that, as more and more people get cured by traditional medicine, a day will come when Bhutan could export traditional medicines.
“This is our country’s dream. However, this dream can be fulfilled only if government doesn’t discourage practice like mine,” says Choeda.