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Traditional Chinese medicine calls for standards
Departments concerned are working towards a set of standards for traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) so they can be more widely accepted throughout the rest of the world.
The planting and processing of medical materials, such as herbs, and the production of TCM will all be standardized so they contain certain ingredients able to cure diseases, said Xiao Shiying, a medical researcher with the Ministry of Science and Technology.
He said from 2001 and 2005, about 150 million yuan (US$18 million) will be invested by the ministry in the sector.
Before Western-style medicine was introduced into China, Chinese people were dependent on traditional medicine and due to cultural reasons, traditional Chinese medicine was also widely used in other Asian countries.
According to Xiao, Western countries have not accepted the use of traditional Chinese medicine because it is hard to figure out how it works and there are no standards to ensure quality.
A Western-style medicine, which is usually a chemical compound, can cure diseases because the chemical compound is effective, Xiao said.
"But it is very difficult to find out what is specifically working in a traditional Chinese medicine, which is not a pure chemical compound," he said.
In addition, Xiao said the quantity of the effective components in a traditional Chinese medicine cannot be kept at a fixed level for various reasons, with the result that its herbal quality cannot be guaranteed.
"Herbs from different regions contain different quantities of such compositions," he explained.
Xiao and his colleagues are trying to find out what components traditional Chinese medicine contains and what diseases they can cure.
In 1999, they started to plant more than 70 medicinical materials, such as Chinese ephedra, or mahuang.
"We are very strict in where and when to plant the materials, and how we preserve and process them," Xiao said, adding that another 80 materials are to be added to the list.
However, Xiao said, there is a long way to go before standards can be set for all medicines because there are more than 10,000 traditional Chinese medicines.
"We are now only concentrating on nearly 500 medicines that are used the most commonly," he said.
The Ministry of Science and Technology invested more than 30 million yuan (US$3.6 million) in research between 1996 and 2000.
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