When China's Shenzhou-9 astronauts were in training for their historic mission, they fortified themselves against the rigours of space flight with a daily regimen of Chinese medicine. The preparations they took proved so effective in alleviating motion sickness and decompression that other countries are now starting to investigate the benefits for their own space programmes.
This is but one example of how Chinese medicine is gaining worldwide acceptance. In fact, in Hong Kong, there are over 50 modernised Chinese medicine clinics employing registered practitioners, and the Hospital Authority's 16 clinics alone have almost one million patient visits every year.
Yet our government has apparently been oblivious to the need for a Chinese medicine hospital.
Baptist University has proposed a Chinese medicine teaching hospital on a site adjacent to the university vacated by the former Institute of Vocational Education (Lee Wai Lee). Many patients and members of the public have expressed their support for the hospital, which would fulfil the need for holistic in-patient Chinese medical treatment.
The government, however, has proposed to rezone the land for a luxury residential development. These luxury residences will not help solve the housing problems faced by the grass roots.
A Chinese medicine teaching hospital, by contrast, would benefit many thousands of patients and medicine students, while elevating Hong Kong's stature as a centre for Chinese medicine.
With rising demand for Chinese medicine services and the potential for clinical practice to inform research, the absence of such a hospital has been keenly felt. Currently, our Chinese medicine students do their one-year internships at Chinese medicine hospitals on the mainland, where Chinese and Western medicine practices are integrated.
Practitioners there make diagnoses with the aid of Western medical equipment and prescribe Chinese and/or Western medicines. As a result, the knowledge and experience our students gain on the mainland cannot be fully applied in Hong Kong.
A teaching hospital would enable our students to learn treatments and skills that are fully applicable to the local health care system. They would be able to continue practising as doctors in a local Chinese medicine hospital upon graduation. In turn, patients would benefit by receiving the most appropriate treatment.
A teaching hospital would also promote the development of clinical research as well as traditional Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. As an international city, Hong Kong should grasp the opportunity to serve as a hub of Chinese medicine. The city could become a base for training international Chinese medicine practitioners and provide an exemplary Chinese medicine clinical service model.
Baptist University's school of Chinese medicine is well positioned to operate such a facility. In 1998, the university became the first higher-education institution in the city to offer publicly funded degrees in Chinese medicine: the Bachelor of Chinese medicine and Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Biomedical Science. The school of Chinese medicine, established in 1999, was the first in Hong Kong and currently operates 15 Chinese medicine clinics.
Throughout this period, the government has shown its support for Chinese medicine; indeed, its future development was enshrined in our Basic Law. Last year, the World Health Organisation designated the Chinese medicine division of the Department of Health as a collaborating centre for traditional medicine, and that same year the Hong Kong government set up a task force for the development of this branch of medicine.
That is why it was so puzzling to hear that the government put commercial considerations over education - specifically, the development of a Chinese medicine teaching hospital.
The government should support the establishment of a Chinese medicine teaching hospital, a much-needed project that would serve the long-term interests of Hong Kong.
Professor Lu Aiping is dean of Chinese medicine at the Baptist University