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Free drugs help sustain traditional Tibetan medicine

Updated: 2012-08-16 16:56

A Tibetan county in northwest China's Gansu province has cut medical costs for local farmers and herders by exempting in-patients from traditional Tibetan medicine bills.

The move is aimed at easing the Tibetans' financial burden and sustaining traditional Tibetan medicine. It has proved effective in treating various acute and chronic diseases, said Zhu Qingxue, deputy chief of the health bureau in Tianzhu Tibetan autonomous county.

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"All in-patients can get a refund of their bills for Tibetan herbal medicine and other traditional Tibetan therapies," Zhu told Xinhua on Thursday.

Tianzhu is China's first Tibetan autonomous county. Tibetans account for about 32 percent of its 230,000 population.

The county has lots of herbal resources and traditional Tibetan medicine has been in practice for at least 1,000 years, said Zhu.

To date, medical institutions in Tianzhu county have developed 170 Tibetan drugs for clinical use. He said: "Sixty percent of the ingredients are herbal plants that grow in the county."

The medicine has proved effective in treating rheumatism, cardio-vascular and digestive diseases, said Guo Denghai, deputy head of the Tianzhu-based Institute for Tibetan Medicine Research and Development.

"Tibetan herbal medicine is also effective in treating common diseases such as flu," he said. "It's also much cheaper than Chinese and Western medicine - only four yuan (0.6 US dollar) for seven days' doses."

Yu Feixiu, 57, is a peasant woman from Tianzhu's Chuaheeshiulong township and works on 5,000 square meters of cropland, raising a herd of 40 sheep. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years.

However, after four days of treatment at the township hospital near her home, she felt better. "It doesn't hurt as bad as before, and it's easier for me to walk," she said."

The therapy that eased her pains were two drugs based on locally grown herbal plants, said Dr. Li Yu, deputy head of the township hospital.

Many patients have been coming to the township hospital after the county government decided to incorporate traditional Tibetan medicine into the rural medicare system early this year. Dr. Li said: "They don't have to pay a cent out of their own pockets if they choose traditional Tibetan therapy."

China's rural medicare system was initiated in 2003 to reimburse some of the medical costs of the rural population.

To sustain the centuries-old Tibetan medicine, Tianzhu county offers on-the-job training to about 200 medical workers every year. Some of them are trained in Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province.

"Seventeen out of the 19 township hospitals in Tianzhu have Tibetan medicine specialists," said health official Zhu Qingxue. "We plan to extend Tibetan medical treatment to every village in a few years to come, so that more people will benefit from these cost-effective traditional therapies."

In the past, Tibetan medication was available only at monasteries. The ancient discipline became known to outsiders only after the first public hospital of Tibetan medicine was founded in Lhasa in 1989.

Tibetan medicine, also known as Sowa Rigpa in the Tibetan language, is at least 2,300 years old. It has absorbed the influences of traditional Chinese, Indian and Arab medicine and is in practice in Tibet and the Himalayan region.

Similar to traditional Chinese medicine and in sharp contrast to biomedicine, Tibetan medicine uses herbs, minerals and sometimes insects and animals for treatment.

Tibetan medicine schools have a presence in more than 30 countries. The four medical tantras, the primary teaching texts for training Tibetan physicians, have been translated into many languages, including English, German, French, Russian and Japanese.