News and Views on Tibet

5 questions : Men-tsee-khang, SARS and many more…..

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Men-tsee-khang celebrated its 42nd anniversary last month. In those four decades, the Institute has come a long way from being a small clinic with a few doctors to a fully fledged centre of Tibetan heritage. spoke with the senior researcher and doctor, Dawa Dolma la, to look into this highly regarded institute, and also to inquire about any recent developments. An excerpt from the interview:

Q. 1: Where does the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute stand after 42 years?

A. Since its inception, Men-tsee-khang has made great strides in promoting and preserving the unique Tibetan medical tradition. We now have around 45 branch clinics across the country, more than 200 qualified doctors posted in these different clinics and still more students being trained to become doctors.

Q. 2. What are the most common diseases that Tibetan doctors come across within the exile community?

A. In our community, we mostly confront cases of gastro-enteritis, arthritis and blood pressure problems. Among the Indians it is the case of diabetes.

Q. 3. Has there been any interaction with western medical doctors in order to do joint research on certain diseases that might help to enhance the credibility of our medicine?

A. We don’t try to get western medicine incorporated into our practice. We continue to rely on the age-old methods and on the scriptures written many centuries back. However, in analysing the effectiveness of the different medicines, we have lately started to use modern or scientific research methodologies.

In fact, a few years back we conducted a joint research program with the All Indian Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) to assess the overall effectiveness of Tibetan medicine on diabetes mellitus.

This clinical study took about three years and around 200 newly diagnosed patients were recruited for that. The patients were categorised into two groups: One under treatment group and the other under control group. Those who were in the treatment group were treated by Tibetan medicine (which includes four different medicines), in addition to the dietary and lifestyle modifications normally followed according to western medical practice. On the other hand, the control group patients were not given any Tibetan medicine. The results were very encouraging, because we found a 23% increase in the success rates of those subjected to the Tibetan medicines.

We have therefore now started to look into other diseases. For instance, we are right now in the initial stage of doing a similar research on ovarian cancer.

Q.4 Has there been any work done on the health situation inside Tibet?

A. So far, we haven’t done any work in this respect. But, we are presently concerned about the fast spreading viral disease, known popularly as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Since that disease originated in China, we are worried how Tibet would be affected with its poor medical infrastructure. We wonder if enough measures have been taken to keep the Tibetans free from the disease.

Q.5 Pertaining to SARS, could you shed some light on the pill which the Institute has made to protect against it?

A. We cannot divulge the full details of the pill. It has been mentioned in the scriptures that such dreadful diseases would occur in the future, and remedial measures were also suggested there. There are two options described; one is by chanting certain mantras and the other is by using a special pill that would keep a person immune from these unexpected diseases. Since the success of chanting the sacred mantras is contingent to the level of one’s spiritual standing, it has become difficult to apply this method during this age. We have therefore opted for the other, more feasible way of making the special pills.

This medicine should be accepted as a general antidote to any such diseases and not exclusively for SARS.

It contains seven different herbal ingredients wrapped in a piece of black cloth. One must keep it worn around the neck and sniff it regularly. The strength of the pill is in its smell. We have to make this clear that it does not cure the disease per se; it is instead a protective measure against such epidemics. Also to be kept in mind is that it should not be consumed like a regular medicine.

A similar medicine was made when there was a plague epidemic in the country. I heard that not a single Tibetan suffered from the disease even though they were living in the affected areas. Maybe it really works.

In any case, this is not first time we have made this pill. The late Dr. Tenzin Choedrak la (former personal physician of His Holiness the Dalai Lama) told me about a similar medicine being used in Tibet when an unidentified disease nearly killed all the residents of a large monastery.

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