When housewife Kamisah Suria started to have frozen shoulder pains about a year ago, she tried taking painkillers but they had no effect.
A friend then took the 62-year-old for tuina - a therapeutic massage- at a Sian Chay Medical Institution clinic in Geylang.
After two sessions with a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician, the pains had almost disappeared and she could raise her arms again. As a senior citizen, she paid only $5 for each tuina session.
"I am surprised that the sessions were so easy and painless to go through," she said.
Madam Kamisah, who lives in Bukit Panjang, is among an increasing number of non-Chinese Singaporeans seeking treatment at Sian Chay and other free TCM clinics here recently.
ALL ARE WELCOME
I am very happy to see more non-Chinese patients coming because our mission is to serve all, irrespective of race.
MR TOH SOON HUAT, chairman of Sian Chay, the fastest-growing free TCM chain
These clinics provide free consultation, but charge a nominal fee for medicine and treatments such as tuina and acupuncture.
Statistics from the 115-year-old Sian Chay show that from less than 50 ethnic Malay and Indian patients going to its five clinics every month a year ago, it now sees more than 200 at its 11 clinics.
Other TCM free clinics, including Thong Chai Medical Institution and Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution, also recorded increases in visits by non-Chinese patients.
"There are also foreign workers, like maids, and even tourists from neighbouring countries coming mainly for illnesses such as rheumatism and insomnia, and menses cramps in the case of women," said Thong Chai's head physician Zheng Huangfang, 30, who oversees the institution's clinics in Chin Swee Road, Ang Mo Kio and Sengkang.
The rise in their numbers, she explained, could also be due to more people now knowing that the consultation is free.
Sian Chay is the fastest-growing free TCM chain here, having grown from one clinic in 2008 to 11 today.
Its chairman Toh Soon Huat, 56, believes the sharp rise in non-Chinese patients could be because some of the clinics are near areas with Malay residents, such as its four outlets in Geylang.
"I am very happy to see more non-Chinese patients coming because our mission is to serve all, irrespective of race," he added.
He plans to hire counter staff who speak Malay and physicians who are fluent in English and Mandarin for Sian Chay's 12th clinic, which will open in Marsiling in September, to serve non-Chinese patients there better.
"We are also planning to include the Malay language in our publicity materials for the clinic because of the higher concentration of Malay residents in the area," he said.
Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef said more Malays are seeking treatment at TCM clinics because they are now more receptive to alternative medicine.
"The clean, modern ambience and decor at Sian Chay's clinics also help to make them feel more comfortable there," she added.