The TCM quotient!

Patriotic as I am, I concede albeit grudgingly, Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) has scored a few brownie points over mine (read that as Indian Indigenous med)

My years in the west, the Chinese Po Chai Pills became my oft resorted fix to combat the ill effects of Styrofoam food. Not that I relied any less on Pudin Hara,….sadly it was not available on the American shelves as compared to its Chinese counterpart.

In comparison, our Ayurveda after languishing in a state of inertia for decades has perhaps just about gathered momentum over the last few years.

Rewinding the clock is never an option. And so as against examining what we did wrong in allowing Indigenous lie idle, it bears progressive posits to examine what we did not do right. Illustrative it is to highlight noteworthy practices and strategies of TCM and use it to and benchmark mine.

TCM enjoys vantage mainstream position in China rapidly expanding its frontiers to the West.

TCM consumption account for 30-50 % of the total Chinese medical consumption

Guangzhou Xiangxue Pharmaceuticals (Xiangxue) recently became the first amongst many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) companies to establish a base in the UK at the Babraham Research Campus near Cambridge.

As early bas 2001, Chinese granted 3300 patents to TCM based formulations.

Aspirin (originally derived from the willow tree which itself was used for pain relief), and the anti-malarial artemisinin are formulations derived from traditional Chinese medicinal herbs.

More recently Chinese scientists have commenced the Herbalome project aimed at modernizing TCM and according it increased legitimacy.

Chinese scientists are preparing to begin a 15-year project to screen the constituents of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs).

The ‘Herbalome Project’ will use high throughput screening, toxicity tests and clinical trials to identify active ingredients and contaminants in known TCMs — of which there are as many as 400,000 combinations of 10,000 herbs and animal extracts.

The researchers hope the project will modernize the field, lead to better quality control and improve the reported downsides of TCM: uneven efficacy and quality, and harsh side effects. It could also identify potential drugs for Western medicine.’

The Indian agenda for its Indigenous is likely a get a heavy duty fillip by implementing a similar initiative. Lacks of mainstream acceptance and established scientific credibility have been cited as key factors for the snails pace development of Indian medicinal systems..

A combination of factors have worked for TCM…..Thrust on R&D , adopting best industry practises, rapid modernization of infrastructure and aggressive marketing forays have all contributed to the brand building and presence of TCM.

However I will not throw the baby out with the bath water. India may have lagged but its never too late. Global sales of herbal medicine was estimated at a colossal 30 billion in 2000, is likely to have increased substantially. The Neutraceutical Industry is poised to be billion dollar industry. The Neutraceutical Summit held in Mumbai recently highlighted.Indias’ potential to be a global player capitalizing on its bio diversity and traditional legacy.

The National Commission of India has chartered an impressive mission this year to implement capacity building initiatives for Indian Indigenous Medicine. Proposal to set up an All India Institute for Ayurveda and Siddha and are in the anvil.We are there and we could well benefit from emulating models that have worked well.Progressing as we are, mine could challenge the neighbours’ roost!

The field is wide open, its catch up time for Indian med and it is anyone’s game yet!


  1. AvatarJ. Sai Deepak

    Firstly, i should say the optimistic tone of this post certainly helped to lift my spirits.After reading it, i was reminded of a mural which Pfizer usually gifts its valued customers and somehow found its way to my institution IIT kharagpur’s School of Medical Science and Technology. This mural captures the evolution of medicine from being a “ritual- based” practice to a “science” and charts its early roots from Ancient India’s Ayurveda system where Charaka is shown as curing a sick man followed by the Ancient Temple of Greece and so on till the time of Hippocrates, where according to Pfizer medicine was finally practised and recognised as a science.

    Though this mural acknowledges India’s contribution, at the expense of sounding cliched, i personally felt it was extremely offensive for it was pandering to the gallery by reinforcing stereotypes about the “exotic and mystical nature” of anything that is Indian and that “science” as an idea is the sole propreity of the West.

    The relevance of this example with respect to your post is that only when indigenous systems are accorded their due without compartmentalising them as alternative medicine, will the public truly start endorsing it. This debate has been going on for centuries and i have nothing new to add to it.But i would like to point out that apart from factors such as investment, infrastructure and regulation there is one factor which is extremely relevant atleast as far as India is concered- politics.

    In China’s case, it can switch its stance without any feeling of compunction; at one time Cultural Revolution was deemed necessary to wipe out any trace of the past, today Confucius, even astrology in the form of feng shui and Chinese medicine have come to represent, to quote Prof.Richard Rye, Chinese “soft power”. What about India? We dont know what we want, we know what we dont want. Anything positive which is remotely connected to India’s past is dubbed as “tailoring” or “manufacturing” history.

    One can cite umpteen examples where indigenous medicine and its practitioners have been routinely targeted and villified. Yes, i agree that some of the cases are genuine instances of malpractice, but merely because there are a few black sheep, the whole system cannot be accused of subterfuge. For that matter, is so-called scientific medicine free of such blemishes?

    Ironically, people in India are less charitable in their views about indigenous medicine than people abroad. Last summer, during my internship i came across an interesting compendium of articles released by the Department of Science and Humanities as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations in 1999. This conference was titled “Rethinking Science and Civilization: The Ideologies, Disciplines and Rhetorics of World History” and the literature was so forthright in concluding that traditional knowledge (TK) has an uphill task for it is being forced to conform to western notions of science, that it explained to an extent the problem with the present IP framework and its compatibility problems with TK.

    (un)fortunately, for a very long time most educated Indians too subscribed to the same theory and accused anything indigenous to be lacking in “reason”. After all these years, now when we realise that we can make potloads of money from our legacy, we have decided to acknowledge it. For a nation of Spiritual gurus, nothing could sound more materialistic.

    As regards “modernization”, it cannot be denied that streamlining the process of verification and refutation in indigenous medicine is important to ensure public safety, but in the process, all those elements which go on to make indigenous medicine what it is should be retained. “modernization” (not westernization) in the context of TK would be like tampering with the raw potential of a pace bowler to such an extent that he loses what was inherent to him and what came to him so naturally. All i am trying to say is in our efforts to “lend” credibility to the system and to “modernize” it, let not the soul of the system be affected.

    Despite all these issues,it is heartening to note that there are still people who are optimistic which augurs well for there seems to be atleast some kind of interest in our past for whatever reason. Hopefully, other aspects of our legacy too are given their due. I thank you for the post.

    J.Sai Deepak.

  2. AvatarAysha Shaukat

    Dear Sai…..I agree that in the rush to convert our TCM into agoldmine, we cannot erode on the soul and essence of our TK legacy.

    Thanks for the insightful points and comments



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