Alternative medicine has been sitting in the shadow of traditional, Western
medicine for some time in Lebanon: alternative medicine. Though it is not
controversial, alternative medicine is still seen as a complement to traditional medicine. Long a fixture of the Lebanese traditional scene, with stories, and for some, memories of elder Lebanese concocting herbal remedies and using plants as alternative ways to treat disease, alternative medicine is not novel in Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the alternative medicine scene in Lebanon has mostly grown in later years due to the emergence of traditional or “Asian” forms of medicine, adding to the more traditional Lebanese remedies that were once more common. Results from a Lebanese national survey published by the Hindawi Publishing Corporation from 2015 reported that out of the respondent, almost 30% reported using Complementary and Alternative medicine in the past 12 months, defined as biologically based practices including substances found in nature, such as herbs, dietary supplements,
multivitamin, and mineral supplements.
In light of the difficulties faced by the health care sector in Lebanon, and the possible shortage of medicine due to Lebanon’s health care sector becoming more cash-dependant, it is worth considering the possibility that more will turn to alternative medicine to heal.
Broadly defined, alternative medicine is any practice that aims to achieve the healing process of traditional medicine but lies outside of medical science, and also aims to tackle emotional and psychosomatic (diseases involving mind and body) healing. It is often seen as fringe by medical specialists or considered unfounded.
One of the many kinds of alternative medicine is traditional medicine, such as Chinese or Indian traditional medicine, which relies on plants and other practices, which were developed before the advent of modern medicine.
Alternative medicine, though practiced by millions, has faced various criticism by the scientific community. According to Marcia Angell, a leading American physician and author, “there cannot be two kinds of medicine – conventional and alternative”, as she argues, the effectiveness of alternative medicine has not been proven by scientific methods, i.e. observation, hypothesis, and testing.
Yoga Asana (Physical Postures) The first of these alternative methods, and one of the most popular worldwide, is yoga. It is estimated that 36.7 million Americans were practicing yoga in 2016, according to a 2017 survey by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of Americans practicing yoga grew by 50%.
Yoga, not being part of traditional medicine, is not regulated by the Lebanese Ministry of Health, therefore limiting available data on centres and practitioners.
It is evident, however, that the current economic crisis has reduced class
attendance, due in part to financial limitations, but also, due to Covid-19 measures, which have caused centres to reduce capacity up to 40%, if not more.
Executive sat down with Sarah Jawad*, a New York certified yoga teacher, who taught yoga post port explosion. “Classes were a combination of group therapy, where people were given the space they needed to talk about what they had experienced,” she says, “While the other half, was teaching the yoga sequence of the day.”
Hala Okeili, founder of Beirut-based Sarvam Yoga, confirms the transformational power of the practice. “It’s you and the outer world,” she says, “It’s what you do and how you are with others”.
Acupuncture: Chinese Medicine in Lebanon Acupuncture is a part of traditional, Chinese medicine, and is estimated to be over 800 years older than traditional western medicine. Since it is not part of the western
canon of medicine, it is considered by many to be alternative medicine.
Acupuncture works by inserting a fine needle into the body, targeting meridians, or vital energy pathways associated with certain organs, in order to balance the energies in that organ as a way of healing, or curing, disease.
There is currently no recognized syndicate for practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine in Lebanon, despite the effort of practitioners such as Dr. Edmond Ibrahim, a Lebanese acupuncturist, for more than 20 years. Practitioners have no permits as medical practitioners, though Dr. Ibrahim, having studied Chinese medicine in China, has had his degree officially recognized in Lebanon by medical authorities.
University Saint Joseph has been offering one year “Diplomas Universitaires”, though those are afforded to doctors (whereas in China, a minimum of five years is required to be a certified practitioner of Chinese medicine). No law in Lebanon forbids its practice as a specialization, but its practitioners are not recognized as doctors. Therefore, such services are not reimbursed by private and/or public insurances as medical services, however effective the treatment may be.
In Lebanon’s current context, one might think that such services would be more restricted due to the current financial situation, but according to Dr. Ibrahim, this is not the case: since the beginning of the October revolution, the number of his patients has increased. “People care about the results,” he said. “And we did not change the prices of the sessions,” offered at his clinic, which has remained at USD 50 dollars (billed at 4000 LBP per USD).
The impact of Covid-19 has been heavy on the medical profession as a whole and acupuncture is no exception. Professionals have had to decrease the number of intakes and waiting rooms are organized to avoid patients mingling for fear of contamination. Could acupuncture and other parts of traditional Chinese medicine become a substitute to more traditional western medicine in Lebanon?
Dr. Ibrahim states that Chinese medicine will become cheaper compared to
western medicine as it only requires needles, requiring less medical supplies, therefore buffering the devaluation of the Lebanese lira.
Healing Healing is defined simply in the same way as medicine, but with the idea that the body has a capacity to heal itself, and can be defined as the direct interaction between a healer and a patient in order to alleviate suffering. Healing encompasses a wide variety of practices, including meditation, acupuncture, massage, energy healing and others, all in accordance to patients’ specific needs.
According to Ramzig Azazian, a practitioner of healing with a clinic in Burj
Hammoud, who has an Indian and Chinese background in the subject, healing is not a complete process but rather a complimentary one to accelerate healing. “Because of the acceleration of our lives, people are looking for faster and faster methods of healing”, said Azazian.
Like other practitioners of alternative medicine in Lebanon, they are not regulated: practitioners have to travel abroad to learn their credentials. Azazian on the other hand is a licensed physiotherapist, but Lebanon does not regulate the practice of spiritual healing in itself. Healers do not receive payments via insurance, nor are their services covered by insurance.On the other hand, said professionals do not face the same hurdle in other countries such as the US, as acupuncture and other forms of traditional medicine are covered by insurance providers.
Will healing gain from a probable spike in the price of medicine? Covid-19 has had a heavy impact on healing services. The prices of treatment have fallen, according to Azazian, while the number of patients has grown despite harsh financial conditions, which affects patients’ ability to seek treatment. “People are more stressed,” said Azazian, “so the number of patients has increased and the incomes have been reduced.”
Homeopathy Homeopathy is a holistic form of medicine based on the principle that the body can cure itself, in which ailments are treated by minute doses of natural substances which will trigger the body’s natural system of healing. Those natural substances, if taken in larger amounts, would otherwise produce in healthy persons symptoms similar to those of the disease being treated.
According to a report by Zion Market research in 2018, the global homeopathy products market was valued at approximately $5.39 billion in 2017 and was expected to generate revenue of around $15.98 billion by the end of 2024, at an annual growth rate of 16.8 percent.
An initial session includes going through the patient’s history, checking for
traumas, medical history, and even how the patient sleeps, to prescribe the most effective treatment. Critics attribute the successes of homeopathic treatment to the “placebo effect”.
Homeopaths are traditionally doctors and there can be no certification as such without a three-year specialization in medical school in western countries such as France. These doctors have studied the classic curriculum to become doctors and have completed this extra specialization. The University Saint Joseph used to offer this option, with courses offered as of 2010, but recently had to close it down due to financing limits in light of the current economic crisis. Homeopaths are not recognized as such by the Lebanese Board of Medicine and the Ministry of Health, however, they are recognized for their other accolades, such as generalists or pediatricians (homeopaths are usually either in Lebanon). Homeopathic medicines
are also not covered by insurance.
Most homeopathic medicines are imported and therefore not largely available in Lebanon. In light of the cash crisis, treatments for chronic diseases may become less and less sought after, as prices will most likely spike. On the other hand, the treatment for acute diseases is very short term and inexpensive, especially as there are pharmacies in Lebanon that fabricate homeopathic medicine, whose prices would not be affected.
In conclusion, though the treatment for chronic diseases might be affected, the treatment for acute disease will probably remain unchanged.
*Name was edited to protect privacy.
In light of the health sector’s difficulties and shortages of medicine, more Lebanese may turn to alternative medicine.
The global homeopathy products market was valued at $5.39 billion in 2017 and was expected to generate revenue of around $15.98 billion by the end of 2024, at an annual growth rate of 16.8 percent.