South Korean president’s treatments raise eyebrows

SEOUL: At the start of President Park Geun-Hye’s term, physician Kim Sang-Man was a frequent guest at Seoul’s Blue House, exempt from thorough security checks, giving injections derived from human placenta to South Korea’s most important patient.
Park’s frequent medical and cosmetic treatments, including shots administered without the supervision of her official doctors, have been revealed in detail during investigations into a sweeping corruption scandal that is poised to cost her the presidency, raising questions over their safety and efficacy.
It has also fuelled criticism that doctors not appointed by the presidential office treated her over an extended period and continued to do so even after medical staff at her official Blue House residence became aware.
“We’re talking about the president, not just anybody, so the official doctor has to be consulted and then make the decision,” said Shin Hyun-Dai, who served as a Blue House doctor for former President Roh Moo-Hyun from 2003 to 2008.
“The official doctor needs to know even about pills given for indigestion. This is nonsense,” said Shin, who practises Oriental medicine.
Kim said Park, who is 64 and has never married, suffered from insomnia and often became fatigued. He said he had gone into the Blue House to see Park a few times before being named a “consulting Blue House doctor” in August 2013, and several times after that.
He said he would visit Park’s residential quarters after his shift at a clinic, when the president’s medical staff were off duty.
“I would get a call that she is not well, and I would go in,” Kim told a parliamentary hearing this week.
Kim said he would give Park placenta extract injections, which are administered subcutaneously, or just under the outer layer of skin.
“Usually doctors treat illnesses but my speciality is I try to manage the condition before an illness,” he said.
More common in East Asia than in the West, placental extract treatments have recently become popular in South Korea, but many doctors remain sceptical.
Huh Kap-Bum, an endocrinologist who was former President Kim Dae-Jung’s official doctor from 1998 to 2002, said it would have been less controversial if Park had chosen to consult her official doctors for the same treatment.
But, he added: “I would have said to the president, no, because they are not proven safe.”
Park’s medical treatments had been shrouded in secrecy.
Kim had been a staff physician at Chaum, a clinic known for its detox and beauty care services, where Park was treated under a pseudonym before she was elected in December 2012, according to the clinic’s president.
The Health Ministry has said prescriptions for an intravenous glucose and vitamin mix were issued for Park from 2012 to 2014, but that a Chaum doctor had fabricated records to show them as written for Park’s friend Choi Soon-Sil.
Human placental extract therapy has been around for half a century in Japan, where the government approves its use in liver treatments and to ease symptoms of the menopause. — Reuters