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TCM gaining traction as low-cost alternative

Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture is steadily gaining traction as a low-cost alternative public health system for low-income communities in the Western Cape of South Africa.
This follows the legalization of TCM in South Africa in 2001 and the subsequent establishment of the School of Natural Medicine at the University of Western Cape in 2003, when its first students in TCM and acupuncture were registered.
In 2005, a Chinese medicine and acupuncture program was registered with the South African Qualification Authority and the Council of Higher Education of South Africa, thus becoming fully integrated into the higher education system.
The university is offering a structured five-year bachelor of science degree in complementary health sciences and a bachelor of complementary medicine in Chinese medicine and acupuncture - and is ranked as the only accredited institution offering Chinese medicine and acupuncture training in Africa.
According to Ma Xuesheng, coordinator of Chinese medicine and acupuncture for the university's community and health sciences faculty, at least 40 students have graduated with degrees in Chinese medicine and acupuncture since 2003.
Explaining how the program started, Cherrel Africa, spokeswoman for the University of Cape Town, said in 2001 that the university had been approached to establish an educational training platform for the field of complementary medicine in four diagnostic modalities of Chinese medicine and acupuncture, naturopathy, phytotherapy and Unani-Tibb.
"This was a unique opportunity for the university as it would be groundbreaking - the first institution offering these programs," she writes in response to inquiries by China Daily.
She says many qualified graduates are working in private practice in various fields, including academia. Currently, the School of Natural Medicine has two clinics, one that operates on campus and the other off campus at the university's rehabilitation center at Lentegeur Hospital in Mitchells Plain.
"The School of Natural Medicine serves the low-income community with Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Chinese medicine and acupuncture is especially characterized as low-cost, effective and easy to operate," Ma said during a recent visit to Zimbabwe. "It speaks to the needs of Africa, especially the lower-income community in rural areas."
He says the demographics of patients attending Chinese medicine clinics in the Western Cape varied from 12 percent of black people, 12 percent of Indians, 64 percent of mixed race and 6 percent of whites, while in terms of education background, the clinics are patronized by 7 percent of the postgraduate community, 10 percent of undergraduates, 39 percent of matriculating students and 27 percent of grade 8-11 students.
Africa says the clinics are training facilities, so consultations can be free. If affordable, patients can pay a minimum of 60 rand ($4) and an additional amount for herbal medicines as needed.
Authorities said the clinics have been well received by the Western Cape community, who have a greater need for extra medical assistance at the primary healthcare level.
Ma says the University of Western Cape is using Chinese medicine and acupuncture to bridge the communication and collaboration gap between TCM and African Traditional medicine, or ATM, to protect the indigenous knowledge of Africa.
He adds that through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the university is gearing up to train Africa's own Chinese medicine doctors and acupuncturists.
Authorities say the university is working on plans to translate basic African traditional medicine knowledge into Chinese for direct communication and to add ATM tools and history to African museums at Chinese institutions and universities.
ATM and TCM have some similarities. Both are based on holistic philosophy for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Also, both rely on raw herb mixtures in treating patients.
According the University of Western Cape, Chinese medicine and acupuncture is the world's second-largest medical system, used by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide.

For China Daily

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