$20,500 fine for unregistered TCM practitioner

Court documents, however, did not state if Wong Choo Kum's advice directly led to the death of a patient, who was told by Wong to stop taking his Western medicine.
Court documents, however, did not state if Wong Choo Kum's advice directly led to the death of a patient, who was told by Wong to stop taking his Western medicine.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - An unregistered traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner told his patient, who had ailments including diabetes and heart problems, to stop taking his Western medication. The patient later died of kidney failure.

Court documents, however, did not state if Wong Choo Kum's advice directly led to the death of the patient, a part-time fortune teller, who was not named in court documents.

On Friday (May 3), Wong, 71, was fined $20,500 after District Judge Kan Shuk Weng found him guilty of carrying out his practice even though he was not registered with the Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Board.

After an 11-day trial, she also found him guilty of publishing a card bearing the name "Wong Ah Koon", claiming that he could cure ailments such as diabetes, epilepsy and "high blood".

The patient died before the trial started last year. But in a statement which he gave before his death, the man said that he met Wong at a Marsiling wet market in September 2013.

The court heard that Wong told him that he was walking unsteadily and that he had various ailments in his body.

The 60-year-old man also said that Wong gave him a card which contained information such as Wong's phone number and address.

In his submissions, Mr Andre Moses Tan, who is the senior assistant director of the Ministry of Health's legal branch, told the court that the man went to Wong's Marsiling flat on Nov 1, 2013.

Mr Tan said that Wong took the patient's pulse and looked at his tongue before telling him that he would suffer from stroke and cancer. Wong also told the man that his treatment would cost $10,000, and allowed the man to pay him by instalments.

After that, he prescribed the man herbal medication and "powdery substances" later found to contain hydroxyzine - an antihistamine used to treat allergies - as well as sildenafil, which is used to treat erectile dysfunction.

During Wong's trial, Dr Tok Pei Loo from the Singapore General Hospital testified that hydroxyzine and sildenafil are very rarely used to treat the patient's conditions.

Dr Tok also said that if patients were taking certain high blood pressure medication, large doses of sildenafil would be life threatening, as it could cause their blood pressure to drop. Hydroxyzine, on the other hand, could cause drowsiness.

Mr Tan told Judge Kan: "The side effects of the drugs found in the powdery substances prescribed by the accused to the victim have serious side effects if consumed alone or, worse, in conjunction with other medication. The victim stated that after consuming the Chinese medication prescribed by the accused, his condition had deteriorated, especially his eyesight."

Wong, who was not represented by a lawyer, testified in court during the trial that he did not prescribe the man any powdery substances.

Mr Tan said in his submissions: "The accused claimed that it was the victim who had approached him on the basis that the victim had observed that the accused had made a full recovery from a car accident. The victim sought his advice on how he made such a recovery.

 

"The accused had, as a gesture of goodwill, offered to give the victim some of the herbal medication which he claimed his 'master' had left in his home after his master had left Singapore."

Wong had also claimed that he did not charge the man for the medication. Instead, he said that the man had instead given him a red packet in appreciation for his help. Court documents did not reveal details about Wong's "master".

Wong also testified that he had never seen the card which the patient had received and claimed that he did not know why his address was stated on it.

Earlier media reports stated that Wong stopped treating the man in early 2015. The man died in January 2016.

First-time offenders caught practising TCM even though they are not qualified to do so can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $25,000. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $50,000.