'Jamu' products withdrawn from the market
By Stevie Emilia
JAKARTA (JP): With the soaring prices of both generic and patented drugs, more people are turning to jamu, or traditional medicine as an alternative.
However, customers should now be more careful when selecting their favorite traditional medicine -- usually offered in sidewalk stalls or by roaming vendors known as jamu gendong -- because it may no longer just include natural ingredients but also strong medical chemical substances as well.
In the Ministry of Health's letter, dated July 5, the Director General of Food and Drugs Supervision, Sampurno, ordered the withdrawal of 54 kinds of traditional medicine -- two were made in Karawang, West Java while 52 others were from Cilacap and Banyumas in Central Java.
The 54 brands were not registered at the ministry. They contained medicinal chemical substances, such as antalgin, teophylin, CTM, dexamethason, paracetamol, phenylbutason and indometasin. Some of these are strong drugs that should only be available on prescription.
The withdrawal was implemented after the Ministry of Health failed to prevent local jamu vendors mixing medicinal chemical substances with their products. Jamu vendors usually make traditional medicine based on their knowledge of medicinal plants, which can be cultivated or bought in markets.
The withdrawal of the jamu products has pros and cons. Many jamu vendors have lost their jobs and consumers have become confused.
Chairman of the Jamu Manufacturers Association, Irwan Hidayat, welcomed the ministry's move as he believes consumer protection is good for the manufacturers' businesses.
But he hopes that the government will continue to be very careful about making such decisions in the future because the jamu business involves many livelihoods.
"Our business is based on consumer trust. Once we lose it, it will take time to get it back... ," Irwan told journalists on Tuesday, after a discussion on the issue in Jakarta.
The association has 600 companies and 384 vendors, mostly in Cilacap and Banyumas, as its members.
He revealed that the news of the withdrawal alone has cut the industry's turnover by around 20 percent.
"Maybe we (jamu manufacturers) will place advertisements explaining to customers that our products are free from chemical substances...," Irwan said.
According to Health Law No. 23/1992, those who intentionally produce or distribute pharmaceutical products in the form of traditional medicine which do not meet the required standard, are subject to a maximum of five years in prison or a Rp 100 million fine. The punishment would be raised by one-fourth if the violation caused heavy injury, or one-third if it caused death.
Sampurno understood why the decision was not greeted by jamu vendors. "But the measure (to withdraw some jamu products) is necessary to protect people and to prevent damaging the image of Indonesian traditional medicine," he said.
Indonesian traditional medicine has been marketed abroad. For example, in Malaysia and even as far away as Saudi Arabia.
He said that his directive, in cooperation with the Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University School of Pharmacy, would supervise traditional jamu manufactures, especially in Cilacap and Banyumas, to prevent them from mixing chemical substances into their products.
Sampurno said, that at this time 53 jamu companies from Cilacap had reached an agreement with his office that they would no longer add medicinal chemical substances to their jamu. They are given ministry registration in return.
"After they submit their applications, we give them a period of one month to adjust to our requirements, i.e. no more medicinal chemical substances in their products. We expect all of these applications to be taken care of soon, by the end of the year at the latest," said Sampurno.
The agreement, he admitted, would not solve all the problems. "We still expect other small scale companies in the area, especially home based jamu manufacturers, to carry on as before". he said.
After the withdrawal of 54 brands of jamu from the market, the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) has received between 70 and 80 queries from both customers and vendors asking them about the decision.
The foundation's new chairwoman, Indah Suksmaningsih, said that a man had explained that one of the jamu products, which has been withdrawn from the market, helped his 10-year-old child to breathe easily and walk upright. But he later admitted that the jamu had made his child's face swell.
"When I discussed the matter with dirjen (Sampurno), he told me that after consuming the jamu the child may of breathed more easily, but it could of adversely affected the child's kidneys," Indah told journalists.
Indra noted that by adding chemical substances to the herbs, the vendors have deceived and posed danger to the consumers.
"YLKI stands behind the customers. We agree about the benefits of traditional medicine. But there are plenty of ailments that need to be cured... If there's no rules, it could be dangerous for the customers," Indah said.
"In this time of monetary crisis, when many people prefer to use jamu as an alternative to more expensive drugs, the manufacturers must be responsible."
The foundation supported the ministry's move to withdrawal dangerous traditional medicine from the market.
"But it should be followed through by further action, such as monitoring sales and conducting research to find out which jamu contains medical chemical substances or not," said the foundation's former chairwoman Tini Hadad.
She realized that it would not be an easy task for the ministry to analyze all jamu's products one by one as there could be many unregistered companies.
So she advises customers to take necessary precautions: By carefully selecting a jamu product, for example, by checking whether it has been registered at the ministry and checking its expire date.
"These precautions are important to prevent problems later on," Tini said.
She added the ministry's move was in accordance with the Consumers Protection Law, which will be effective in April.
Under the law, she said, consumers have the right to have security and safety and are entitled to clear and correct information.
"Jamu manufacturers are therefore expected to be responsible companies."