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New report lists costs of raw materials in TCM

By Shan Juan | China Daily | Updated: 2015-08-25 07:44

Maca, an herb used to boost male sexual potency in traditional Chinese medicine, is likely to maintain its popularity in China if price is a factor.

The herb is one of 513 TCM raw materials listed in a price report released on Monday by the Department of Sociology at Renmin University of China and Kangmei Pharmaceutical Co. It is the first comprehensive compilation of market prices for TCM raw materials and was recognized by the State Administration of TCM.

Prices of TCM raw materials fluctuate a lot, the report showed. Fifty-six percent of those covered saw unit price drops in the second quarter of the year, the report said.

But while medicinal herbs such as Maca and rose have become cheaper, some other TCM materials are pricey.

The most expensive is the caterpillar fungus, produced from dead moth caterpillars, according to the pricing report. Grown mainly on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and in adjacent regions, including the Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, the fungus tipped the scales at about 195,000 yuan ($30,533) per kilogram.

It has been used in medical treatments for hundreds of years, treating lung disease, bronchitis and impotence. It also serves as a tonic for general good health.

The report included prices of herbs, animals, funguses and minerals from 25 large wholesale TCM markets across the country. Pipe fish, saffron and pilose antler round out the list of most expensive raw materials.

"In China, TCM is a mainstream medical science and service that has long been well-received among the people," said Wang Guoqiang, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission and head of the State Administration of TCM.

The report - the nation's only TCM raw material price report, which the university plans to release quarterly - "helps guide more scientific planting and production of TCM ingredients and makes public access into time-honored medical care services more affordable", he said.

China has nearly 42,000 TCM specialty hospitals, accounting for 4.3 percent of the total hospitals nationwide, statistics from the administration showed. But most large public hospitals have TCM departments.

Among more than 7.3 billion hospital visits last year, 810 million involved TCM treatments.

He Juan, a veteran TCM doctor and a professor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said TCM can be both expensive and cheap.

"Some ingredients are costly, as they are rare. But in most cases there are cheaper substitutes with similar medicinal efficacy," she said.

In the price report, the TCM ingredients with the lowest prices are oyster, mirabilite, gypsum and alums, which are around 3 yuan per kilogram.

Artemisia apiacea, the main ingredient in a "magic" anti-malaria treatment, is also among the most affordable, less than 4 yuan per kilo on the wholesale market, the report said.

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