Quackbusting (cont.)

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The program has been set up in answer to a growing demand for satisfactory training. Head of TCM developments Henry Lee explains: "The reason I’ve introduced this course to the UK is there are far too many unprofessional practices - friends and colleagues have been incorrectly diagnosed. There are a lot of expensive and inadequate private schools, Middlesex will be the first to offer comprehensive tuition".

The five year course, set up as a collaboration with Beijing university and requiring undergraduates to spend six months on placement in China, will provide students with training in all areas of Traditional Chinese medicine. As Mr. Lee says: "A popular misconception is that Chinese medicine is acupuncture alone. But it is a far broader concept that also embraces the use of herbs, moxibustion, massage, medicinal foods and therapeutic massage, known as Tuina".

Reflecting Chinese medicine’s desire to shed it’s quackish image, the course will additionally look at ethics, law, research and Western Medicine. "We have to accept that we are in a society where ninety nine percent of medicine is orthodox. This is perfectly valid. Students must be aware of Western medical practice in order to be able to recognise acute conditions which may be better treated by orthodox methods. We by no means disregard western medicine, Chinese Medicine is just another way of treating a patient".

Mr. Lee believes that more and more people are turning to Oriental medicine, despite Western medical advances, as they seek an effective cure without side effects. "In the proper hands", he says, "Traditional Chinese medicine can produce just this result". Nonetheless, the discipline is still viewed by much of the orthodox medical establishment as suspect. The greatest obstacle to creating the course was gaining state approval.

In Vietnam the use of Chinese medicine has long been accepted. Yet even here it is undergoing a number of changes in a bid to survive into the next millennium.

Much of the herbal medicine available both in Asia and the UK is still produced on a relatively small scale and in the traditional manner. However, at the Thien Hung Medicine Company on the outskirts of booming Ho Chi Minh City, hi-tech, automated production lines are churning out herbal pills for domestic and foreign markets by the million.

Founded in 1993 by Dr. Pham Thien Long, one of Vietnam’s most respected physicians, the company has since expanded at a staggering rate. With over one hundred Thien Hung Medicine shops nationwide and growing demand for its products overseas it is now the country’s biggest producer of Chinese remedies.

Several hundred thousand dollars have been invested in the factory laboratory. Here quality is stringently monitored and research is carried out into new and even more effective medicines.

Dr. Thien Long is not in the least bit surprised by the growing interest in Oriental medicine in the West: "Many people have tried other types of cure and found them ineffective. With Oriental Medicine you can see a result very quickly; recovery is rapid and without side effects".

Probably the most convincing argument in favour of Thien Hung Medicine is Mr. Thien Long himself who uses his own medicines regularly. For a man of seventy he is in remarkable condition and, if the rumours are true, the father of seven children to three different wives - the latest of which is said to be half his age.

Mr. Thien Long is keen to begin exporting his Medicines to the UK and has plans to open a shop in London within the next two years.

The company’s best selling product, particularly in the US, Canada and France, is the impotency treating Seal’s Pill. As the name suggests, these actually contain extract of seal - the penis to be precise - along with other products animal in origin. It is this aspect that might prevent Oriental Medicine from reaching widespread success in the West where trade in endangered species’ attracts far more attention from the consumer.

But even here things are changing. Researchers are looking into herbal alternatives to a number of the animal derived ingredients traditionally used. And as for students at Middlesex, instruction will be in the use of plant based medicines only, by order of Beijing. Course leader Henry Lee has now begun working with animal welfare groups to develop herb-only products.

When even your GP can offer you acupuncture for the treatment of certain conditions, you know that Oriental Medicine is gaining acceptance. But there is still a little way to go before we shall be seeing Thien Hung medicines on the shelves of our local chemist’s. Middlesex University’s course is certainly a step in the right direction, what is needed now is some kind of regulation of those already practising. Surely, an unqualified orthodox doctor found to be treating unsuspecting members of the public would be hauled before the courts.

A TCM Travel Trust has been set up to assist students during their placements in Beijing. Anyone interested in funding a bursary should contact Mr. Lee at Middlesex University.

Nigel Bennett

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