China's official press --- Xinhua News
October 14, 2006
The development of China's ethnic medicines is being thwarted by
a lack of industry standards and new practitioners, say experts,
who are calling for protection of the traditional craft.
Dr. Mei Zhinan, an expert in traditional ethnic medicines at the
South-Central University for Nationalities, said 80 percent of
China's 55 minority groups, accounting for up to seven percent
of the country's 1.3 billion population, had their own medicines
and secret formulas handed down since ancient times.
The State Ministry of Health had registered more than 8,000
types of traditional medicines, including 1,908 Tibetan, 1,342
Mongolian and 600 Uygur remedies.
"These medicines are made of natural herbs after simple
processing like grinding," said Mei. "They are cheap, free from
contamination and effective, as they have cured ailments and
saved lives of people who live in harsh conditions and do not
have access to Western drugs.
"Although credited with curing illnesses, these medicines are
usually not refined. They are made in traditional forms like
balls or powder, which are hard to take," said Mei, explaining
why they were not popular.
The lack of new practitioners was another challenge.
"Fewer people know about the medicines now and some formulas
have become extinct," said Zhou Yijun, deputy dean of the
College of Life and Environment Sciences at Beijing's Central
University for Nationalities.
"These medicines were not documented, but imparted
person-to-person from master to apprentice. Many ethnic medicine
experts have passed away, diminishing the pool of knowledge,"
"China has fewer than 10,000 registered ethnic medicine experts
and 200 such hospitals," said Zhu Guoben, head of China Medicine
of Minorities. "In comparison, there are two million doctors of
Western medicine, and any major Western-style medical hospital
is better equipped than all the 200 ethnic hospitals.
Experts have called for better protection of these medicines and
appealed for the establishment of a special office to coordinate
"We need to preserve these medicines and seek ways to better use
them," said Qin Xunyun, a doctor with the Beijing Dekun Yao
"We also need to research the formulations, efficacy, safety and
working mechanisms of these medicines," added Qin.
China has more than 200 government-run research centers of
minority medicines and 15 private institutes in its hinterland
areas like Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan. About 150
pharmaceutical firms had been set up to produce the minority
medicines last year.