Hospital officials say no SARS cases confirmed in Tibet
WASHINGTON, May 7 – Callers to Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan-language hotline report that Tibetans and Chinese in the Tibetan Autonomous Region are buying traditional Tibetan medicine and incense in bulk in a bid to keep the deadly SARS virus from spreading to the remote region.
Two hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also affirmed the Chinese government’s claim that no cases of SARS have been confirmed in Tibet. But several callers reported on Wednesday that dozens of people have been quarantined in Tibet with SARS-like symptoms.
“Tibetan incense, medicinal powder, and Tibetan ‘precious pills’ are in great demand here,” said one police officer who asked not to be named. “People believe that it can prevent the virus. And SARS hasn’t spread to Tibet.”
“Chinese officials here are also purchasing the pills, and many are sending them to China in the belief that they will protect them from this terrible disease,” said another caller. “In our department, all the Chinese staff members are hanging wrapped pills around their necks and sniffing them from time to time.”
“Some Chinese are complaining that if they put on the protective pills they fall sick. But they’re all using them–even members of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Tibetan students in eastern China also report by phone that Chinese friends and acquaintances have been asking them to obtain the “rilbu gunag” pills from Tibet to help them avoid SARS.
The pills, which are black, comprise nine ingredients and prayers associated with nine medicinal deities. Many Tibetans believe these pills, which are worn around the neck and sniffed, may help prevent the spread of viruses including SARS, according to Dr. Tamding of the Tibetan Medical Center in Dharamsala, northern India.
Tibetans and Chinese in the Tibetan region are also reportedly buying large quantities of Tibetan incense to burn in their homes in an effort to ward off the SARS virus, which has sickened thousands and killed hundreds of people around the world.
“A great portion of incense and pills are mailed to China. There is always a great rush at the post offices with people–both Tibetans and Chinese–sending Tibetan incense to their relatives and friends in China,” one caller said.
“Rilbu gunag” pills are worn around the neck, wrapped in a yellow cloth, said one woman, a secretary in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. “In our office, all staff members, Chinese or Tibetan, were issued one wrap of Tibetan pills. Many government offices supplied these to their staff members,” she said. “These pills are sold by the Tibetan Medical Center in Lhasa and they cannot keep up with demand.”
China’s cabinet, the State Council, last week sent a fifth SARS prevention and supervision team to help local authorities prepare for the possible onset of SARS, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Tibet is one of the few places in China where no SARS cases have been confirmed.
The Tibetan Medical Center has already manufactured 140,000 such pills this year, 40,000 of which have already been sold. No comparative figures for last year were available. In Lhasa, the Tibetan Medical College and Tibetan Medical Center also manufacture the pills.