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Gov't Backs TCM to Improve Science, Rural Care

The government is vowing to invest additional capital in sharpening the scientific edge of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and expects it to play a bigger role in improving the health of millions of China's rural people.

The effort will also be undertaken to enhance international cooperation on TCM research and to develop medicines to fatten the pockets of farmers in the mountainous areas, said Vice-Minister of Science and Technology Li Xueyong.

"TCM is low-cost and it should be widely used in rural areas, especially in poverty-hit regions," Li told a press conference held in Beijing Monday.

To achieve the goal, the Ministry of Health earlier encouraged various organizations and individuals, both from home and overseas, to open more private-run TCM hospitals in the countryside.

Li said the efforts can provide solutions to serious shortages of fair and reasonable medical services and medicines in rural areas, where 70 percent of the nation's total population has access to just 20 percent of the country's medical resources.

Li said the strategy is feasible because TCM, on which the Chinese people have depended for hundreds of years, has unique advantages, such as lower prices and wide recognition nationwide.

He said a total of 14 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) has been channeled by the government, research organizations and companies into TCM's development during the 2002-04 period.

Officials from the National Development and Reform Commission said the government will continue that support momentum through 2010.

Commission Deputy Director Qi Chengyuan, in charge of high-tech industry planning, said TCM has already become a priority high-tech development objective during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) period. "It's a strategy which involves health care, poverty relief, environmental protection, medicine export, and heritage protection," said Qi.

Despite the efforts, some TCM practicians still meet many difficulties in developing and reviving the country's treasured heritage.

Dong Zhenhua, a Beijing-based specialist on treating rheumatoid arthritis, said she is willing to start large-scale production of medicines in line with a prescription handed down by her ancestors.

"But I'm afraid that the prescriptions cannot be well protected if I submit them to the health and drug supervision authorities for approval," said Dong, whose clinic is part of Beijing Chaobai River Orthopaedics Hospital. "It is a matter of how to protect intellectual property rights and the government should work hard to find a way," said Dong.

(China Daily February 1, 2005)

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