Hundreds of people gather in a house in the northern province of Thai Nguyen every day, waiting for a woman to step over their bodies and “drive away their illness”.
Pham Thi Phu, 43, has for 10 years been “curing” people with serious illnesses like cancer, polio, mental illness and autism, rumors claim.
In the large yard in her house in Song Cong town, around 100 people, both women and men, lie face down in a line on the brick floor. They are all in a pair of shorts, which are dropped during the “treatment” to show their rear.
Phu then steps on them, one after another, claiming to transmit electricity to the patients through her bare feet to “cure their illness.”
For severe cases, patients are hold upside down with their head dipped in a basin of water charged with her electricity.
Phu treats a man by holding him upside down with his head in a bowl of water. Photos: Ha An
Then he is carried like this...
Sometimes 600 people come for treatment in a day, a local man only identified as Nam, told news website Phap Luat.
The fee is not fixed and left to the patient.
The treatment seems to work since there is a group of young, healthy-looking people outside her house who have come to say thanks for curing them.
There is just one minor problem: the group is always there in her front yard to show their gratitude.
“When I came here for the first time, I met a group of young men and women, who told me they had come to thank her for her wonderful treatment,” Tran Van Thang, a 65-year old man with lung cancer from Hanoi, said.
“But after a few months, when I came back to her house, I saw the same group with the same thanks.”
Thang, who said he did not improve from her treatment, added that he then decided to get treated at a clinic in the capital.
Phu, who has no credentials in health care or traditional medicine, used to run a stall selling fish at a market near her house.
According to locals, her family sent her to a local hospital with mental illness in 2003.
She closed her stall in 2005 to begin a new career, which she claimed was a “mission of a people coming from heaven.” She had started with fortune telling and later became a curer.
A young patient being cured by Phu. Photo: Ha An
Trinh, a neighbor of Phu’s, told Thanh Nien that all her patients are from neighboring provinces and cities; locals never go to her for treatment after many died one after another after visiting her.
“When she sold fish in the market, she always shortchanged us,” another neighbor said. “So, even now, we call her Phu ‘fish’.”
Thanh Nien asked local officials about her unauthorized clinic, but at two different offices its correspondent was told the chief “was out for a meeting” and promised a reply later.
Pham Vu Khanh, head of the Ministry of Health’s traditional medicine management department, said his office has not received any information about her from local authorities.
While Thanh Nien waits for authorities to reply, hundreds of people call on her every day.
Since her yard is only large enough for around a 100 people, latecomers have to rent a room nearby to wait for their turn.
The rooms that cost VND15,000 – 80,000 per person per day, eateries there, and motorbike taxis are all owned by her relatives.
Hundreds of people sit outside Phu's house, waiting for their turn to be cured. Photo: Ha An