By Catherine Sasman
A strong whiff of burnt herbs hits the nose when entering the first floor at the northern wing of the Katutura State Hospital.
“It is their medicine,” says a Namibian nurse walking by and pointing to the green and white board that reads ‘Chinese Acupuncture Department’.
What is burning is a natural herb called moxibustion, rolled up in a small, tight ball. This is used with an acupuncture needle pushed through the middle of the ball and inserted into the patient where it stays for 15 to 20 minutes.
“The warmth that this generates is good for blood circulation and boosts the immune system,” explains Dr Li Xin Wei, a traditional Chinese doctor.
Xin Wei specializes in acupuncture after studying for a five-year degree and three-year Masters programme at one of China’s Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) universities.
He is in Namibia on contract at the Chinese Acupuncture Department at the hospital, courtesy of the Chinese Government to its Namibian counterpart since 1996.
The Chinese Government started sending teams of TMC doctors and nurses on two-year contracts for the past 11 years, after a request from former President Sam Nujoma, who was exposed to the magic of TCM during the 1960s and 1970s.
So fervent is Nujoma’s support to the department that he and his wife, Kovambo, receive treatment on a weekly basis.
The former first lady, who suffered from a stroke – says head of the department, Dr Luo Yan Ning – is recovering very well with acupuncture.
TCM, a phrase coined in the 1950s, is a modern compilation of traditional Asian medical practices, which includes other East Asian systems from Japan and Korea. Today, says Zhang Jun, second secretary to the Economic Councillor’s Office with the Chinese Embassy in Namibia, more influences come from Mongolia and Tibet since these regions have been incorporated into China.
“It is a wonderful accumulated science taken from one generation of practitioners to the next,” declares Yun.
“It should not be viewed as an auxiliary to Western medicine, but as a different approach.”
TCM is a growing phenomenon in the world today. Its popularity grows, experts say, because it offers simple, effective and low-cost medical treatment, which works in harmony with the body’s natural ability to heal itself. It also has virtually no side effects.
Developed over 2000 years, its philosophy is based on a holistic approach to live: to maintain a balance between the mind, body and the environment.
“Life is made up of yin and yang,” explains Yan Ning. “It is night and day, dark and light; the sun is yang and the moon is yin.”
Yang represents light and, in TCM terms, encompasses the external body. Yin symbolizes darkness, representing internal organs.
Diagnoses and treatment are also conducted with reference to other theoretical frameworks such as the five elements (wind, fire, earth, wood and water), the body meridian system, and Zang Fu organ theory.
Meridians, says Xin Wei, are like tubes transporting blood and chi, which is life energy. Illness often occurs because these tubes are blocked. There are 14 meridians in the body.
The Zang Fu explains the physiological function and interconnection of the five zang organs (heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidneys) and six fu organs (gall bladder, stomach, large and small intestines, urinary bladder and the sanjiao, or the three cavities in the human body).
An initial diagnosis is made by an observation of the pulse of a patient, the colour of the face, and the texture of the tongue.
The pulse is checked by placing three fingers on the pulse – left-hand pulse for men, and right-hand pulse for women, says Dr Jia Fushen.
The three fingers touch on the areas that correspond with the heart, liver and kidneys separately.
“If the tongue, for example, is swollen or has too much white cover with dots on the side, it can indicate that the patient has a water retention problem,” clarifies Fushen, who runs a private TCM clinic from the Wernhil shopping centre.
The three most important TCM treatments are acupuncture, massaging of soft tissue, and cupping. A combination of about 10??????’??