Spiritual healers still in demand

News Straits Times | KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 2005: Malaysians strongly prefer modern medicine, but will turn unhesitatingly to spiritual healers for severe or inexplicable ailments. In a nationwide survey carried out late last year, 90 per cent of respondents said they would readily turn to doctors and specialists – but one in eight also said they trusted spiritual healers. Malays registered the highest level of such trust on spiritual healers, at 82 per cent, while the Chinese were the lowest at 42 per cent. The poll, conducted by Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, also revealed that a third of Malaysians have tried spiritual healing methods in the past, seeking help from the bomoh, monks or priests. Interestingly, those who seek spiritual help cut across all divides of ethnicity, age, gender, education and rural/urban areas.

The only significant difference is that those in higher income groups do not trust faith healers as much as those who earn less. Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said the decision to turn to spiritual healers was not irrational. It made political and economic sense, because such help could be friendlier and more accessible. There is no bureaucracy separating the sick person and the healer. Hence, it would be natural for the poor to seek traditional or alternative help. People in the higher income bracket, he said, would go to doctors because they lived in urban areas and would be covered by medical insurance. Shamsul said he was not surprised that Malaysian society was comfortable with both modern and traditional healers. “It is a demonstration of our tolerance and acceptance of different world views,” he said; “of our ability to operate in two different systems.” “Each healing method has its strong points.

” Our problem is, when we discuss and compare them, the negative elements are usually highlighted. “Yes, we read and hear about bomohs raping young and unsuspecting women, but there are also doctors facing malpractice suits.” The modern medicine man, Shamsul added, could not handle everything. When there are different healing systems, people can seek refuge in the one that gives them most comfort and meaning. The poll of over 800 respondents, supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, is the second in a series tailored for the New Straits Times. The first, last November, looked at how Malaysians managed daily work and other pressures. In the second survey, which focused on lifestyle and health issues, it was revealed that two-thirds of Malaysians had no medical insurance coverage. Malays were least likely to have coverage (76 per cent), as compared to the Indians (48 per cent) and the Chinese (41 per cent).

Coverage was expectedly lowest among the young, but also worrisomely absent among those 50 and above. Of those with insurance coverage, 80 per cent acquired it themselves while 10 per cent were covered by employers. This data tallies with the high percentage of Malays (74 per cent) and Indians (54 per cent) who favoured public healthcare. Two-thirds of those in rural areas opt for public hospitals, against fewer than half – 42 per cent -who live in urban centres. Despite the constant complaints and letters to newspapers about the quality of care in public hospitals, 69 per cent reported that they were satisfied with service from such hospitals. Malays (38 per cent) and Indians (51 per cent) were more satisfied with public medical facilities, compared to only five per cent of Chinese respondents expressing such sentiments. On areas needing improvement, waiting time was cited as the most critical. The poll also found that two-thirds of Malaysians visit the doctor at least once a year. Less than one in 10 did not go to a doctor at all, while Malays and Indians tended to report the highest number of visits.

The Chinese tend to self-medicate or take home remedies. Finally, the poll noted that cancer invoked the greatest concern among most Malaysians (31 per cent), followed by heart problems (15 per cent) and diabetes (11 per cent). Almost half of the Chinese respondents were not at all concerned about this, perhaps indicating how health is seen as an integral part of one’s luck and fortune. Compared to the Chinese, the Malays and Indians were inordinately concerned about illnesses. Overall, the poll found that despite the concerns of respective ethnic groups, nearly two-thirds of Malaysians felt they were in “good” or “extremely good” health.