Hong Kong seeks to put traditional Chinese medicine on the map

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Hong Kong’s highly internationalized universities are embroiled in a broader dynamic to bring academic legitimacy to Traditional Chinese Medicine on the global stage through evidence-based research.

The most important step is an allocation of HK $ 500 million (£ 46 million) for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the 2021 budget of the Hong Kong government. This sum will help finance the construction of the city’s first Chinese medicine hospital, scheduled to open in 2025 under the auspices of the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU).

“There are people who see Chinese medicine as something traditional and maybe not as valid. We want to elevate him, ”said Alexander Wai, who took over as HKBU’s vice-chancellor earlier this year. “We want to transform academic disciplines like Chinese medicine with the application of technology.

“There is no future in limiting the subjects you can teach. We want to internationalize Chinese medicine.

Bian Zhaoxiang, who is associate vice president (Chinese medicine development) at HKBU, said the hospital would allow better quality control and research focused on Chinese medicine, describing Hong Kong as a “unique place” which combined both Chinese knowledge and world universities. .

“We hope to create a platform to introduce TCM to the world,” said Professor Bian.

Traditional Chinese healing – including the use of herbs, minerals, and animal products, and practices such as acupuncture – has been used for centuries in Hong Kong and a part of everyday life. The city has about 10,000 practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, as well as 15,000 doctors trained in conventional or Western medicine.

However, the field of traditional Chinese medicine did not receive recognition from the Hong Kong government until after British colonial rule ended in 1997.

The following year, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) opened Chinese medical schools. In 1999, HKBU became the first university in Hong Kong to offer publicly funded undergraduate degrees in Chinese medicine and pharmacy, with HKU and CUHK adding similar programs a few years later.

HKU is now seeking government approval for a new lab complex to support its six undergraduate medical programs, one of which focuses on Chinese therapies.

There are parallel developments in Macau, another Chinese special administrative region a short ferry ride from Hong Kong. Shortly after the transfer of this city from Portuguese rule to Chinese rule in 1999, the Macau University of Science and Technology opened a Chinese medicine faculty and undergraduate program in 2000, while the He University of Macao established an Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences in 2002.

In mainland China, there have long been universities and institutes dedicated to traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou.

The estate received a boost in public recognition in 2015 when Tu Youyou became the first Chinese national to win a Nobel Prize in medicine, for her discovery of artemisinin, a malaria treatment based on an extract of Chinese herbs.

In May this year, Tsinghua University launched the Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, an interdisciplinary research center bringing together different departments for “innovation and development of Chinese medicine.”

In addition to government initiatives, physicians advocate a more holistic approach to the field. In June, experts published a letter in the Hong Kong Medical Journal calling for greater integration between the two types of medical disciplines.

“[Traditional Chinese medicine] Practitioners have an important role to play in sharing the health burden in the current Covid-19 pandemic, ”they write, adding that“ the role of discipline is limited and requires deliberation and recognition ”.

Ellis Kam Lun Hon, co-author of this letter and Honorary Clinical Professor at the Institute for Integrative Medicine at CUHK, said that “teaching and research in this area is essential to give it credibility.”

He warned that popular use of traditional Chinese medicine or herbal medicine, without professional scientific supervision and evidence-based research, could lead to “dangerous pseudoscience.”

Dr Hon, who is trained in conventional medicine, also stressed the need for “integrative medicine, which means something that is not exclusively Chinese or Western medicine, but a combination of the two”.

He noted that Canada, Germany, Australia and other countries were also developing their own areas of herbal medicine.

Across the world, academia is increasingly open to incorporating Indigenous wisdom. Arctic researchers have called for increased funding and recognition of indigenous knowledge, especially in understanding the local environment. Indigenous research in Australia and New Zealand is also growing in importance.

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