TCM users shocked by price hikes

10:16, May 25, 2011      

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Wen Zhangbin had a puzzled look on his face when he was asked to pay 102 yuan ($15.69) for three doses of a herbal medicine at the Guangdong No 2 Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine on Tuesday.

"I paid less than 50 yuan for three similar doses at this hospital about a year ago," Wen told China Daily.

The 63-year-old had just taken his 3-year-old grandson to see a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner at the hospital about the boy's cough and fever.

Staff at the hospital told him there had not been a mistake in the pricing, and he was being asked to pay more because the price of Chinese herbal medicine had gone up sharply across the board in recent months.

"The big price rise will affect a lot of people who consult traditional Chinese medicine doctors after they fall ill," Wen said.

TCM has a lot of followers in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, because many locals believe it is not only effective but cheaper than Western medicine, he said.

Shen Jianhua, president of the Liwan District Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said the average prescription at his hospital last year cost almost 84 yuan.

"But the figure increased to 102.7 yuan in April because of the hike in the cost of most herbal medicines," Shen said.

According to figures from the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 84 percent of 537 types of traditional medicine were the subject of a price hike in 2010. The selling price of 96 of them at least doubled.

At a bazaar where herbal medicine is sold in Guangzhou's Qingping, a kilogram of taizishen now sells for more than 500 yuan but was less than 50 yuan at the beginning of 2010. Taizishen is mainly used in the treatment of children's coughs and fever.

Many other herbal medicines have seen big price rises during the past year.

A trader surnamed Li at Qingping bazaar said the serious drought that hit Southwest China last year and the North China Plain earlier this year meant less herbal medicine was produced.

Meanwhile, many herbal medicine growers have refused to plant herbs used in Chinese medicine because of the high cost of fertilizers and farm chemicals.

"Growing herbal medicine is not like planting vegetables. Growers have to wait for between six months and more than two years before they can harvest the herbs," Li told China Daily.

Xing Zhenjie, general manager of Bozhou Zhenjie Medicine Company based in Anhui province, said prices may continue to go up.

Xing said part of the problem is the fact that the price of traditional medicine can be easily manipulated.

"Some medicines can only be planted in certain areas, so, if all products are bought by one investor or a group of them, speculating on those products is quite easy," he said.

Xing said people are buying up stocks so they can drive up the price.

"The shelf life of some products is 20 years, so many people, including planters, hoard medicine as a way of speculating and that drives up prices," said Xing. "There is no standardized shelf time for traditional Chinese medicine so people will not worry about an expiry date."

Jiang Yanghua, an analyst from China Investment Consulting, said it is necessary to establish a price and production monitoring mechanism to oversee the market. In addition, Jiang said a reserve mechanism would help ease the pressure when the price goes up even higher.

In the face of rising prices, many consumers are starting to cut back on their consumption.

Tu Xingyun, from Hubei province, said she is making soup from chuanbei, a TCM decongestant, and making sure her daughter eats it all after its price rose from 1,000 yuan a kilogram to 2,000 yuan in less than a year.

Zhang Yue contributed to this story.

Source:China Daily
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