Traditional medicine in Myanmar is based on ayurvedic concepts and influenced by Buddhist philosophy. From 1885, the beginning of the colonial period in Myanmar, until the Second World War, allopathic medicine was promoted over traditional medicine. During the Second World War, however, allopathic medicines were scarce and traditional medicine regained prominence.
The Department of Indigenous Medicine was established in August 1989. It houses more than 4000 ancient palm-leaf and parchment writings and books on traditional Myanmar medicine. Since the promulgation of the Traditional Medicine Law in 1996, a total of 3962 medicinal items have been registered and 632 manufacturers have been issued production licences.
Over 8000 practitioners of traditional medicine are registered in Myanmar.
There is one 50-bed hospital for traditional medicine in Mandalay, one 25-bed hospital in Yangon, and three 16-bed hospitals in other parts of the country. There are 194 township-level traditional medicine departments, each with its own outpatient clinic.
Prior to the Second World War, several national committees recommended that the Government recognize traditional medicine, but no action resulted.
Four years after Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the Myanmar Indigenous Medical Committee was formed. The Committee drafted the Indigenous Myanmar Medical Practitioners Board Act 74, which was passed in 1953 and amended in 1955, 1962, and 1987. The Act established the Indigenous Myanmar Medical Practitioners Board, which advises the Government on the revival and development of traditional Myanmar medicine, related research, and the promotion of public health, among other things. Section 11 specifies “suppression of charlatans or quacks who are earning their living by means of indigenous Myanmar medicine” as a particular function of the Board. Subject to the sanction of the Head of State, the Board is also empowered to prescribe topics for examination in traditional Myanmar medicine, register practitioners, and remove practitioners from the register if a defect in character or undesirable conduct is established. Section 24 of the Act prescribes that subject to the provisions of Section 23 of the Myanmar Medical Act, practitioners of traditional medicine must be registered in order to sign medical certificates, which by law must be signed by a medical practitioner. Similarly, unless he or she has obtained the prior sanction of the Head of State, an indigenous medical practitioner who is not registered may not hold certain specified appointments in publicly supported hospitals or other health facilities.
Section 7 of the Indigenous Myanmar Medical Practitioners Board Rules of 1955 (194) provides for the registration of traditional medicine practitioners under six categories. The system of classification is essentially based on the division of Myanmar medicine into four branches: dhatu, ayurveda, astrology, and witchcraft. In Section 9 of the Rules, details are given of the knowledge required for registration in each specific category. Provision is made, in Section 10, for authors of works on indigenous medicine to be registered in one of three groups. Section 10 also prohibits the registration of monks as medical practitioners.
Under Section 12 of the Rules, the Board is mandated to find ways to consolidate the four branches of medicine currently practised into a single system. The Board is also mandated to conduct research and advise the authorities on standardizing methods of treatment provided in Government-operated dispensaries.
The Indigenous Myanmar Medical Practitioners Board Amendment Act 48 of 1962 introduced Sections 22-A and 28-A empowering the Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Myanmar to cancel the registration of indigenous medical practitioners, prescribe qualifications for registration, and terminate the services of any or all of the members of the Board and appoint new members in their place. Under these powers, a new Board was appointed to initiate the re-registration of practitioners.
In 1996, the Government promulgated the Traditional Medicine Law in order to control the production and sale of traditional medicines. The Ministry of Health has updated and revised the Indigenous Myanmar Medical Practitioners Board Amendment Act and renamed it the Traditional Medical Council Law. It is now in the process of receiving State approval.
Education and training
The Ministry of Health established an educational institution known as the Institute of Indigenous Medicine in 1976 (195). It offers a three-year training programme followed by a one-year internship. The Institute also conducts a one-year course in primary health care for traditional medicine practitioners who have no certificate or licence to treat patients. Those who are successful in the course receive a licence to practise traditional medicine.