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Traditional Medicine Expected to Play Important Role in Rural China

Chinese political advisors attending their annual full session in Beijing said that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) should play an important role in health care in rural areas.


"Chinese have relied on TCM for thousands of years while Western medicine was introduced into the country several hundred years ago. TCM should and can play a bigger role in rural areas," said Zhu Qingsheng, former vice minister of health and now a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top advisory body.


Zhu's remarks won consent of a number of CPPCC members both from the medical sector and other circles. "I believe TCM is a good tool in building a system of primary health care services for both urban and rural residents," said CPPCC member Ha Xiaoxian, who is also an expert from the Harbin Traditional Chinese Medicine Research Center.


TCM was widely used in the rural health system after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and helped double the country's average life expectancy from 35 years in 1949 to 68 years in 1978. However, it is losing out to Western medicine in the popularity stakes in China, according to an online survey last year.


A nationwide debate erupted over the survival of TCM last year after an online proposal by Zhang Gongyao, a professor with Central South University, urged China's health authorities to remove TCM practices from national health service. It attracted both support and outrage from thousands of netizens.


Supporters of the proposal labeled TCM as "unscientific and untrustworthy" and opponents lambasted supporters for ignoring history and the true values of TCM.


China's Ministry of Health has made its opposition to the proposal, saying "TCM is an inseparable and important component of China's health sector" and "Chinese medicine has been acknowledged in a growing number of foreign countries."


In the government work report delivered on March 5 at the opening of the National People's Congress (NPC), Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the government would strongly support the development of traditional Chinese medicine and the folk medicine of ethnic minorities and give full play to their important role in preventing and treating illnesses.


However, China is in dire need of experienced TCM doctors as there are only 270,000 practitioners in the country and only 30, 000 of them practice TCM only, most of whom are above 50 years of age, according to CPPCC member Si Fuchun, an expert from Henan College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.


The political advisors from the health sector have submitted suggestions, calling on the government to improve the training of TCM practitioners, alter certification procedure to enable more practitioners to get licenses, and subsidize those who work in rural areas and communities.


(Xinhua News Agency March 12, 2007)

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