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Kota Kinabalu – a ‘rojak’ spa paradise

 | April 29, 2011

Beauty and reflexology centres are mushrooming in Sabah's capital and this is viewed as an 'unhealthy' trend.

KOTA KINABALU: Kota Kinabalu is fast gaining a reputation as a spa paradise where anything goes.

Beauty and reflexology centres are offering a rojak (mixed) service and often employing Filipinos as “masseuses or massage therapists”.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) discovered this combined service after an initial series of on-going checks here. The Traditional and Complementary Medicine Division (TCMD) of the MoH, which is carrying out the checks, is gearing itself up for the introduction of the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament in June.

The checks are part of a nationwide roadshow to explain the new Act, the registration procedure and the need to comply with all the requirements as stipulated.

“We were not happy with the workers’ dressing at some of the centres,” a TCMD spokesman said. “One centre had five therapists from the Philippines but was not registered with us.”

All masseuses, masseurs and therapists – foreign and local – are required to register with the TCMD. Also, they need to specify whether the services they provide relate to beauty, reflexology or traditional treatment.

However, the TCMD said that the operators are offering beauty services and spa treatment or reflexology combined with foot reflexology and acupuncture.

“This is not quite right. You can’t combine beauty treatment with foot massage,” said the spokesman. “Beauty is under cosmetics.”

Sufficient time

According to TCDM, when the new Act is out, operators have to decide whether they want to be, for example, a beauty or a reflexology centre.

The Malaysian Traditional and Complementary Medicine Council will decide on the categories of wellness centres under the Act and issue the Certificate of Practice to practitioners.

Even so, the Act will not be enforced immediately, the TCMD spokesman said.

He said the federal government has agreed to give traditional and complementary medicine practitioners sufficient time to understand and be familiar with the new law.

This would also allow them to make the necessary changes in their current mode of operation, he added.

Meanwhile, the spokesman assured that TCMD’s visits are routine, and not a raid, “since prior notice is given to the establishments concerned”.

Apparently, the purpose is “friendly’ and “there’s no need to be afraid if everything is above board”.

“We are here to guide them and correct any flaws, not to take punitive action. If it’s not right, improve it. That’s our intention,” said the spokesman. “There was a reflexology centre which closed for the day during our visit because the operator was afraid.”

The TCMD cited fish spas as one example where it advised operators on the importance of maintaining high standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

This means changing the water in the pool, among others, every 24 hours in the interest of the clients’ well-being and to avoid possible transmission of disease.

Timely intervention

Meanwhile, the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Practitioners Association of Sabah (TCMAS) has welcomed the proposed Act as a timely intervention.

The members point to the invasion of women from the Philippines who come in on social visit passes and, allegedly, end up working at the massage parlours and reflexology centres mushrooming in the city.

“Many of the foreign therapists employed by local operators compromise on cleanliness and quality of services by not using surgical gloves,” said partially-blind Catherine Ringegon who specialises in holistic therapy. “It’s important that massage centres maintain cleanliness at all times.”

She frowns on the practice of reflexology centres providing foot massage for as low as RM15 with no rinsing of feet. This undercutting, Ringegon warned, takes no account of the hard-won degrees and diplomas held by qualified therapists.

She hopes the new Act could be expanded to curb unhealthy practices like undercutting in the market.

Affendi Utoh Labug, another TCMAS member, is not so keen on the new Act. He feels that it’s most important to give the local trade the necessary knowledge rather than enforce the Act.

“The Act will frighten operators. They will go into hiding and operate underground,” he said. “It’s better to take one thing at a time. Firstly, the focus should be on educating massage centres on the guidelines already laid down by the TCMD.”

Winston Wee, the placement officer at the Sabah Society for the Blind, hopes that regulation of massage therapy will help blind members of the profession, especially the freelancers.

“Blind therapists are trained but find that opportunities for them are limited,” he said.

Besides stand-alone entities, many spas and wellness centres here are housed at hotels and resorts. They are members of the Association of Malaysian Spas.

Pix courtesy of Jaffrin’s flickr page


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