Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Across Saudi Arabia, the sick and chronically ill are increasingly turning to alternative medicine and using unsanctioned methods such as Chinese acupuncture. This is especially the case with serious illnesses, diabetes, bone fractures, and back pain. With clinics all over the Kingdom, especially in Mecca , alternative doctors are estimated to earn up to 1300 $ US per day (around 5000 Saudi Riyals).
Nima, who uses alternative medicine and sees patients at a makeshift clinic at her home in Jeddah, says she resorts to “Chinese medicine and acupuncture. It’s popular and not dangerous”. On the other hand, Dr. Yassir al Ghamdi, the Director of the Health Affairs Authority, in Mecca , indicates that the government “does not allow these ‘doctors’ to practice medicine. They are unlicensed” before adding “Those who use acupuncture need a separate license to practice after they submit their qualification to the Saudi Authority for Health Specialization.” Only then, al Ghamdi reveals, are they allowed to register “according to clause 15/5 L in Article 3 of the Private Health Institutions Statute and allowed to practice.”
Yet, despite the recent popularity of alternative medicine, the government lacks figures on the number of doctors that currently practice inside the Kingdom, with al Ghamdi confirming that “the number of those discovered and arrested recently in unknown.” He warns citizens to “beware at all times and report unlicensed doctors who only peddle lies and diseases.”
In other areas in the Kingdom, such as the region of al Baha, alternative medicine is thriving because, in the words off al Ghamdi, “Confidence in hospitals is at an all time low. A large number prefer alternative medicine, because they believe it is less dangerous.” He says the “The extensive King Fahd hospital in al Baha is thought, by some, to be the worst in the region! Imagine what their opinion of other medical centers is!”
Some retailers are also selling unlicensed medicines in a blatant violation of the law. These remedies and potions are, in most cases, advertised in non-official newspaper and media outlets. Dr. Moahmmed al Hanafi, who works for a pharmaceutical company indicates these medicines are very popular, despite the dangers inherent in many of them. He is surprised “how any one can promote them or use them” and finds it hard to believe “relevant government authorities and agencies remain silent on the issue.” In fact, the Saudi Ministry of Health warned of the misuse of alternative medicine but never took any concrete action. This paved the way for those seeking a quick profit to begin practicing without having to worry of government action.