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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

Nobel Prize for Tu Youyou gives traditional Chinese medicine a shot in the arm

Sector in the limelight following Tu Youyou's award, with experts seeking legislative boost and for the subject to be taught at school

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 October, 2015, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 2:53pm

Experts in traditional Chinese medicine are calling for legislation and government support to boost the development of the sector, which has been thrust into the limelight by the awarding of a Nobel Prize for medicine to Tu Youyou .

Hype surrounding traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has grown since Tu told state media this week that her breakthrough was "a successful example of collective exploration in Chinese medicine", which she described - quoting late leader Mao Zedong - as "a great treasure".

Tu was awarded the prize for her work on the anti-malaria drug artemisinin, which is based on ancient Chinese herbal medicine. Whether the award should be credited to TCM has sparked heated debate, but this has done little to stop the hype.

READ MORE: The home, the herbalist and the high school: Feverish interest in Nobel Prize-winner Tu Youyou's background

Chen Qiguang, who leads a TCM research group in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua that boosting TCM should be regarded an important national strategy.

Chen, and scientists including Wang Hongguang, deputy director of a research institute affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology, and Zhang Boli, head of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, said legislation should be introduced to strengthen management of the sector, including assessment of professional qualifications and approval of new drugs.

They said more intellectual property protection should be provided for TCM drugs and prescriptions to give the sector an internationally competitive edge and encourage foreign pharmaceutical companies to use Chinese herbs for research. They also want TCM to be a subject at primary and secondary schools.

Tu's award is having an impact across the country. A tourist attraction in an obscure mountainous area in Guangdong province, which was home to the 4th century pharmacist and alchemist Ge Hong, has become popular in recent days.

The area's authorities said they would re-establish a herbal medicine market which existed in the Song dynasty (960-1279) to "promote outstanding traditional herbal medicine culture".

Even before Tu's award brought TCM into the limelight, the State Council had in May issued its first five-year development plan for Chinese medicine health care services.

[My breakthrough was] a successful example of collective exploration in Chinese medicine
Tu Youyou, Nobel Prize for medicine winner

It vowed to relax market access, secure land use, increase guidance on investment and financing and improve industry taxation and pricing policies.

According to the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, there were 44,474 TCM institutions on the mainland as of 2013, accounting for 4 per cent of all health institutions.

In 2014, TCM institutions received 2.65 per cent of all government health care budgets, while providing 15 per cent of medical services, according to Xinhua.

Professor Li Guoqiao, of the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, said most big hospitals provided TCM services, even though they were not regarded officially as TCM institutions.