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Current date: Thursday June 04, 2009 - Issue: (1224), Volume 16 , From 12 January 2009 to 14 January 2009

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Koryo Traditional Medicine: an oriental solution for Yemeni patients

Nadia Al-Sakkaf

Dr. Ayed Al-Sorihi GM of the Koryo Center for Traditional and Eastern Medicine
As the world is turning more and more to traditional medicine, North Korea has already mastered it and is now exporting this science to the rest of the world. The first Koryo Traditional Medical Center in Yemen was established more than nine months ago to provide Yemenis with an oriental solution to their health problems.

Korean medicine has been steadily developing over the years since ancient times, and perhaps because of the current financial sanctions, North Koreans have developed traditional medicine into a form that can be used to cure many modern day diseases.

The Koryo Center for Traditional and Eastern Medicine is a private medical institution set up as a joint venture between Dr. Ayed Al-Sorihi who runs the center and the North Korean Government who supplies the center with qualified staff. Currently there are four doctors (three men and one woman) carrying degrees in general medicine and surgery as well as masters degrees in Koryo Traditional Medicine. The doctors are assisted by two nurses specialized in Koryo Traditional Medicine.

“The idea started when I met a few North Korean engineers who had participated in the construction projects during the Yemeni Unity anniversary in 2007 celebrated in Ibb,” explained Al-Sorihi about the center. “I was discussing the lack of traditional medical centers and they recommended a joint venture through the Korean Economic Bureau in Sana’a.”

The medical team currently working at the center had worked in other Arab countries such as Libya and Jordan. They know sufficient Arabic to communicate with the patients and the administration. One of the male doctors is based in Taiz where he provides various treatments including treatment for impotency.

“Having a female doctor is quite convenient for the conservative Yemeni culture that prefers female patients be seen by a women doctor,” explained Zakiya Ahmad Al-Haddad, receptionist and administrator at the center, who also facilitates communication between the patients and the doctors.

So far, the center has received over 600 cases since its establishment. Most of the patients were either referred by a doctor after being treated for heart or nerve diseases or by former patients whose health improved because of the treatment they received at the Center.

According to the center’s records, most of the patients are females and the majority of the patients suffer from back and joints disorders, or are recovering from an accident or a stroke. Many patients usually come to the center to obtain Korean physiotherapy to help them recover some functionality in their bodies. Some patients come from other governorates such as Aden, Amran and Dhamar after they have given up on conventional medicine.

A diagnosis check up costs 1000 Yemeni Riyals (five US dollars) and the cost of a single medical session ranges from 3500 to 5000 Yemeni Riyals (USD 17.5 – 25) and lasts for at least one hour. Some treatments could take up to 30 sessions and some disorders can be cured in less than ten depending on the case.

Treatment includes needle reflexotherapy and acupuncture, therapeutic massage, therapeutic laser and exercises, electrotherapy and electro massage, functional therapy, rehabilitation or recovery therapy, kinestherapy (treatment of disease by movements or exercise), and Moxibustion.

Moxibustion is a form of fire heat treat
Dr. Jo Jong Gill and Nurse Hwang Un Ha using electrical acupuncture to create localized electrical pulses in the leg muscles to encourage free blood flow to key areas in the body.
ment that stimulates specific acupuncture points of the body. The term is derived from the Japanese "mogusa" meaning herb (mugwort) and the Latin "bustion" meaning burning.

The American Journal of Chinese Medicine reports that Moxibustion therapy in conjunction with acupuncture can be very effective for many diseases and conditions including back pain, muscle stiffness, headaches, migraines, tendonitis, arthritis, digestive disorders, anxiety, and female health problems such as menstrual cramps, irregular periods, and infertility.

Yemeni health endangering habits

According to Dr. Al-Sorihi, around 90 percent of the handicaps caused by injuries, strokes, or post surgeries could have been cured if treated immediately. However, the lack of health awareness and adequate medical facilities prolong the suffering of such disabilities that some become handicapped for life.

Recently, strokes have become more common among Yemenis and even among the younger generations. Constant consumption of food stuff that contains hydrogenated fats creates many health hazards, and increases the cholesterol rates in the blood stream which increases the chances of having a stroke.

“The quality of canned food in Yemen is quite bad and could cause various health problems, especially since there isn’t much accountability of manufacturers or importers of food stuffs. This is why the health problems are increasing, even among youth and children, not just the elderly,” said Al-Sorihi.

During his previous work as director of the Medical Establishments Department at the Ministry of Health, Al-Sorihi had come to recognize the need for a Korean or Chinese medical center that provides traditional medicine instead of the conventional medical service centers and hospitals. Such kinds of medical services could help many Yemenis who are suffering from illnesses that modern science has failed or takes longer to cure.

“I realized that we need East Asian traditional medicine that would help Yemenis overcome temporary functional disabilities without needing to travel outside the country or spending much on treatment,” said Al-Sorihi.

Khaled Mohammed is a 56 year-old man from Taiz who had been suffering from a disorder in the seventh nerve of the mouth that caused his mouth to twist permanently to one side; he had been going to the Physiotherapy Center afflicted to the Ministry of Health for months without much improvement.

“The treatment at the government center was cheaper but it was taking so long and I had not improved much. After thirty sessions with Dr. Jo Jong Gill I have recovered partial control of my mouth,” he said. Dr. Gill instructed Mohammed to rest for a couple of weeks before starting phase two of the treatment.

“In Khaled Mohammed’s case, he had suffered from a stroke that affected his smile nerves and whenever the weather became cold he would suffer from severe pain. Now his smile has almost returned to normal and he does not suffer so much pain,” explained Dr. Gill.

Mohammed’s treatment was a mixture between Korean acupuncture, triple vitamin Bs injection, and electric and heat therapy. No surgery or oral medication was required.

Doctors warn of several habits among the Yemeni people that affect their body negatively. One is when Yemenis remain in one posture for hours on daily basis during the Qat chewing sessions. During these sessions, Qat chewers sit for over five hours wh
Dr. O Song Suk applying pressure on certain points in a patient’s foot using an acupuncture wooden stick. Some types of acupuncture do not require skin penetration and thus are safer, as patients do not risk infection.
ile bending their body towards one direction.

Muhanad Dawod is a 20 year-old student from Hudeidah who came to the center because of back pain. After the preliminary diagnosis, the doctors explained that he has developed muscle irritation between the scapula (the shoulder blade) and the back of the thoracic rib cage because of strain or poor posture over time.

This is a familiar complaint from people who work at computers for long hours. The treatment recommended included acupuncture and heat sessions as well as changing his sitting habits.

Another concern Al-Sorihi explained is in the construction design, especially in Sana’a city where the buildings are close to one another leaving very little room for air and sunlight. There are no balconies or yards and so the homes are not aired properly. Such construction could cause rheumatoid arthritis or rheumatism, especially if the houses are cold or the rooms are damp.

The center has received many rheumatoid patients who were made better considerably after a few sessions. However, as the doctors explain, they have to change their living conditions and habits if they wanted to continue being healthy.

Women in the cities have a greater problem because they are completely covered outdoors, so when they go out they are barely exposed to the sun’s healthy rays. Similarly, when at home, women have to stay behind closed doors and protect themselves from being exposed through windows. Women in rural areas are luckier this way as they have more freedom and exposure to outdoor life.

Moreover, all Yemenis, men and women, do not have sports or exercise integrated in their life style; this also causes many muscular and health problems in various body systems. Many patients visit the center because of muscle disorders or cramps.

A 35 year-old woman was suffering from a chronic muscle cramp in her right leg which caused her tremendous pain. After a few sessions of electro massage and Moxibustion she said the cramps eased and the pain was reduced remarkably.

Some health problems are caused because of the food habits and not having enough nutrition in meals. Osteoporosis and other bone problems are caused by the lack of certain minerals in the diet and also because of the short spans between frequent pregnancies. Unhealthy diet and emotional stress could also cause an imbalance in the body’s system.

Doctor O. Song Suk gave the example of one of her patients who was a thirty year-old woman suffering from disturbances during her monthly period. After seven sessions of a mixture of localized heat and pressure, massage, and Moxibustion, her periods became regular.

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