A patient has leech treatment for diabetes in Kauman village in Pleret, Bantul regency, Yogyakarta. (JP/Slamet Sutanto) The leech (Hirudo medicinal) is a disgusting creature to many but in the hands of Muhyidin, it is believed to have the potential to cure diseases. Everyday, Muhyidin's house in Kauman village, Pleret, Bantul regency in Yogyakarta is full of patients waiting for leeches to suck their blood. The father of two explained that leeches can cure diseases since their saliva contains active substances including hirudin which is usually found in egg white and penicillin. Hirudin has the ability to dilute blood. The leech has three jaws and is equipped with 100 small teeth. When a leech bites and starts sucking blood, it releases hirudin which enters the body and gets into the circulation. Blood clots, or dirty blood inside the human body, will diffuse when affected by hirudin. The diffused dirty blood can later on be sucked out by the leech. "The leech speeds up circulation of the blood and makes the patient's body feel fresh," said Muhyidin. Faster blood circulation, he said, can also make the body's organs work faster. "It channels oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. If there's an obstacle some body organs may be disturbed and can eventually develop diseases," said Muhyidin. Based on the results of research carried out in Germany, leeches were also recognized as being capable of reducing pain and inflammation. This is because by sucking dirty blood, static and poisoned blood the circulation can be improved. Clogging is reduced and circulation becomes faster. "Leech treatment is well known all over the world and has been a research topic in the U.S., Russia, Germany and other European countries. It is used by many U.S. hospitals." he said. Leech treatment is believed to have other benefits, including curing schizophrenia and depression and stimulating the eyes. It can deflate a swollen tongue and reduce the pain of a sore appendix. Medical students and medical staff from England have visited to see the proof of the benefits of leech treatment. "After following leech therapy, I feel much better," said Sumitro, a stroke patient who has undergone leech therapy in Muhyidin's place seven times. The first time that he came Sumitro's body was stiff and he couldn't talk. But after five sessions of leech therapy Sumitro is now able to speak. "I also feel and stay healthy even though I take sugar in my drinks," said Bambang, from Lempuyangan, Yogyakarta who also has leech therapy. "My parents suffer from diabetes, get treatment and take medicines prescribed by doctors," said Bambang. Since he has been close to diabetes patients, Bambang is also diligent in reading about this disease. "I understand that diabetes can't be cured," he said. The problem is that diabetes patients who go to a doctor often do not feel much improvement. Even when they have followed medical advice, the diabetes can still get worse. "Seeing my parents' experience I'm sure that traditional therapy would be preferable." said Bambang.
Leeches ready to be used in alternative medical treatment. (JP/Slamet Susanto)
Skill in administering leech therapy was developed by Muhyidin through personal experience after suffering from diabetes for 10 years, from 1980-1990, badly affecting his leg. "My doctor recommended that I should have my leg amputated," he recalled. At that time one of his friends suggested that he should use leeches. He put two leeches on his leg to suck out the dirty blood. The result was that a week later the wound started drying and his foot wasn't amputated.
"Since then I have never felt pain again. Even when I drink I always add sugar, even though I have diabetes," he said. In the last few years, one of his neighbors in Kauman suffered similar wounds and his leg was almost amputated. Remembering his own experience, Muhyidin went to the rice fields looking for leeches to cure his neighbor. "The patient came to me to be cured. Since then, more patients started coming and I formally opened a leech treatment centre in 2002," he said. Now almost every day, tens of patients come to Muhyidin's house. Every patient is, on average, given four leeches. The number of leeches used depends on the seriousness of case. "If there's a diabetes patient with a leg in bad condition I'll place 11 leeches," he said. For the treatment, the patient pays Rp 12,500 (US$1.30) per leech. "Many patients are coming from poor families. For them, the treatment is free. It's a pity that they are sick and have to spend money on transport to get here, so why I should ask them to pay?" said Muhyidin. Muhyidin is often asked to go to different cities to practice his therapy. Others patients come to his home. "It's not just patients from Indonesia who come to my house. Patients from other countries also visit me," he said. He said his patients came from as far away as Japan, Hong Kong, China, France, Holland, England, South Korea, Taiwan and neighboring countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Most of them suffer from diabetes. "I just got a call saying a group from Canada will come to have treatment," he said.
Leeches which are used for treatment can only be used once. After sucking blood during treatment the leech dies. He said it is hard to get new leeches from Yogyakarta and surrounding cities. "Pollution caused by pesticides has made the leech almost extinct. I'm forced to import leeches from Palembang (South Sumatra) because they are difficult to find here," he said