Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM as it is commonly known, has been a feature in Singaporeans’ suite of medical options for decades. Indeed, the oldest TCM halls here date back to more than a hundred years.
So popular is it that TCM has now become a complementary treatment option to western medicine, the two o-existing in a uniquely Singaporean metropolis. Quite a thing, isn’t it?
“In Singapore, about 76 per cent of the population has used complementary alternative medicine, and of this, TCM accounts for 88 per cent,” said the chairman of the Singapore Traditional Chinese Medicine Organisations Committee, David Tang.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) acknowledges that “among all the complementary medicine and traditional medicine, TCM has the most number of practitioners and patients” here.
Perhaps because of its widespread application and interest from the public, the Singapore government has moved in recent times to better regulate the sector. The intention, perhaps, is also to professionalise the practice and its practitioners, so that there are minimum standards adhered to, which would benefit and assure the public.
Among the regulations introduced thus far is the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Act, which was passed on 14 Nov 2000.
The Act requires TCM practitioners or physicians to be registered with the TCM Practitioners Board (TPB).
The TPB also accredits TCM schools and courses, and regulates the professional conduct and ethics of registered TCM Practitioners.
Acupuncturists, for example, were required to be registered from 2001, and this was expanded to include TCM physicians in 2002.
But it is not just the people practising the profession who need to be accredited – the herbs which are an integral part of TCM treatments or prescriptions are also subject to the authorities’ oversight.
According to Mr Tang:
“All Chinese proprietary medicine - that is, products in the finished dosage forms such as tablets, capsules and liquids - are regulated by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and must comply with a set of safety and quality criteria before being allowed to be sold here.”
The HSA is under the purview of the MOH.
Importers, wholesale dealers and manufacturers of Chinese proprietary medicine are also required to be licensed by the HSA which conducts random product inspections in the market.
TCM halls and practitioners are spread all across Singapore, from downtown to the heartlands. And many of them have links or heritage which can be traced back to China, where Singapore’s early immigrants came from.
These early establishments were set up for altruistic reasons - to provide medical care to immigrants or to those who were too poor to pay for such services.
Thong Chai building in the past
Probably the oldest TCM clinic here is the Thong Chai Medical Insitution, established almost 150 years ago, in 1867, by two Chinese merchants as a charitable clinic providing free medical consultation to the public.
Today, sustained by benefactors and the public, its services include treatment for stroke by acupuncture, diabetes and hypertension, oncology, infertility, and nephropathy.
Thong Chai building currently
The original building where it once stood had been used as a hospital during the country’s difficult years and as a centre of activities for the early Chinese community later on. It was gazetted as a national monument in 1973, which meant that the building is now a conservation site.
Another historical medical hall here would be Wong Yiu Nam, located at 51 Temple Street in Singapore’s Chinatown.
Wong Yiu Nam
It also has a rather interesting history.
According to the company’s website, Wong Yiu Nam was a TCM physician during the Qing dynasty in China.
In 1935, Guangzhou was faced with wars and the people fell into hardship. Many businessmen brought their [families] and escaped to the Singapore-Malaysia region for refuge, thinking that life would improve after migrating to Southeast Asia.
Unexpectedly, they found themselves landing on a place with hot and humid climate, and many of them started falling sick even before settling down.
Wong Yiu Nam
Seeing this, a businessman from Hong Kong by the name of Yan Xing Shi brought the trade name of “Wong Yiu Nam Medical Hall” to Singapore and established the Singapore Wong Yiu Nam Medical Hall, in order to take care of the immigrants.
Today, Wong Yiu Nam continues the tradition of caring for the sick and needy through the practice of TCM.
So, if you are wondering if Chinese medicine is safe in Singapore, you can be assured that the authorities here keep a keen eye on the sector, and will act swiftly if there are reports of any fraudulent practices or fake or dangerous products being sold in the market.
But the medical halls and clinics themselves, with their decades of traditions, also take pride in providing quality services and products.
Check out a short 5 minute documentary on the Old Thong Chai Medical Institution: the fond stories of past and present memories in this historically rich building situated along Clarke Quay.