Depok. Leeches may be slimy and suck your blood, but they can also be highly beneficial, said Indonesian leech vendor Wahyu Cromer, adding that his faith in what the worms could do for the human body was so great that he and his friends decided to invest in a leech farm nearly five years ago.
Today their small farm churns out a profit of Rp 30 million ($3,400) a month at the very least, and growth in the alternative medication therapy, particularly for heart and diabetes patients, is showing no signs of stopping.
Wahyu remembers how his sickly father suffered his third stroke in 2006, and he had run out of ideas of where to turn to until he heard of alternative leech therapy in Cirebon. He decided to give it a go.
“Initially my father couldn’t move whatsoever. Within three months of leech therapy, my father started showing significant improvement. I was stunned. I was so satisfied with what leeches could do for my father, I began to scour for information on the medicinal strengths of the leech — and business opportunities,” Wahyu told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday.
He added that along with business partners Midin Muhidin and Bimala Dewi, he invested in 400 medicinal leeches at a cost of Rp 12 million. Their farm, known as eNHa, is located at the back of Wahyu’s home on Jalan Haji Bona in Limo, Depok.
“We were excited. I knew the prospects were good so I discussed this with Dewi and Midin. We knew the potential of this business because investing in leeches at the time was a novelty,” Wahyu said.
Wahyu said it took them a year to find the perfect conditions for the leeches to breed. “Conditions must be humid, dark and free of pollution. Pollution can kill the leech,” he said, adding that the leeches are hermaphrodites.
The farm is currently home to 22 ponds, each with about 1,000 medicinal leeches.
“It takes six months before a leech can be used for therapy. We spend just Rp 5 million a month now for operational costs, and make a clean profit of at least Rp 30 million a month.”
Leech Therapy Clinic
Last year eNHa established the eNHa Clinic, for leech therapy.
“Initially we just wanted to make do with the farm, but then the requests came in — many were related to leech therapy. So we opened our clinic,” Midin said, adding that they saw to at least five patients a day with a variety of problems.
“Leech therapy is your ‘live’ acupuncture therapy. It is therefore very vital to know which points to place the leech on. The number of leeches which are used is different for every patient — it depends on their problems. One patient could use just two, while other patients could use up to 25 leeches. Every patient pays a different price,” Midin said.
But what happens to leeches after they are used on a human?
“They are killed — using alcohol — and used as plant fertilizers. It’s the same principle as with needles: We throw them away after we use them, because we have no idea what is inside the patient’s body. We will never use the same leech on another patient,” Wahyu said.
Before the leeches are used for therapy, they will be quarantined for a few weeks without any food to make sure they suck the patient’s blood.
“Normally we feed the leeches eel. One pond with 1,000 leeches will need one kilogram of eel, which will satisfy them for a couple of weeks. But the ones that will be used [for therapy] will not be fed and placed in clean water without mud,” Midin said.
“We are now working together with professors from University of Indonesia, Diponegoro University and also the Bandung Institute of Technology to find out everything we can about the use of the leeches.”
Supply and Demand
Dewi, Wahyu’s other partner, said it was difficult to meet demand, as people as from as far as America and Egypt were willing to place orders.
“Home-based leech therapy is growing like crazy, from the east to the west of Indonesia. We have found ourselves supplying 10,000 leeches throughout the nation each month, and that’s just a small part of the business,” Dewi told the Globe.
“Requests for leeches have been made from India, South Korea, Egypt and the United States. But unfortunately we have not been able to meet demand for dried leeches [used to make medicinal powder],” she said. “We might in a short time, but it’s hard, even though profits seem very promising. We just don’t want to send customers poor quality leeches.”
But shipping live leeches oversees also proves difficult.
“That is what we are trying to learn. But for now, it seems that sending people dried leeches is far more profitable,” Wahyu said.
He added that in order to be able to meet international demand, he was training 50 people who showed a sincere interest in the leech business.
But more people are still welcome, Dewi said.