China is trying to incorporate its centuries-old traditional medicine, mostly based on herbs, into the national basic healthcare program.
The State Council, the country's Cabinet, pledged in a circular Thursday to enable every community and village health service center, at the lowest level of the program, to provide traditional medicine service for citizens.
It ordered local governments at county level or higher to include traditional medicine hospitals in their health service networks. County hospitals were also encouraged to set up traditional medicine departments.
Governments of all levels will increase investment in public hospitals of traditional medicine to improve their facilities, support research and training of doctors, according to the circular.
"Traditional medicines have outstanding advantages. They cost much less than Western medicines. They will fit in with the health service in rural areas and communities," said Prof. Ha Xiaoxian from Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In the circular, the State Council said traditional medicines will be included in the state basic medicines and traditional medicine hospitals will be in the list of designated hospitals under the country's basic health insurance programs for both rural and urban residents.
The government welcomes private investors to invest in hospitals or pharmacies of traditional medicine. It also encourages veteran doctors to open their own clinics and allows doctors to work at dispensing chemist's shops that sell traditional medicines.
"Traditional Chinese medicine is a treasure of our people. It embodies the unique philosophy and culture of Chinese," the circular said.
But the document admitted that the country sees many problems in passing on and renewing the ancient knowledge. "A lot of valuable knowledge was not passed from the older generation to the younger and some important therapies were lost."
According to the circular, the government plans to register ancient medical books, develop a catalog and set up a digital database for them. It will also support research and publishing of these books.
More resources will be spent on education and training of doctors. The central government will support some key research institutes and colleges.
The government also encourages apprenticeships for training doctors as an alternative to medical schools, especially in rural areas.
For thousands of years, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine passed on their knowledge through apprentices, especially from father to son. Even now many doctors prefer keeping effective and original prescriptions as "family secrets" and only tell them to people they trust.
Traditional Chinese medicine has its unique theories and practices such as herbal medicines, acupuncture, massage and dietary therapy, independent from Western medicine.
For some time, it was sidelined as many of its theories could not be explained by modern medicine but it recently became popular among Chinese as an alternative way to keep fit.
"Traditional medicine perform well in treating chronic diseases and its theories help people develop healthy life styles," Ha said.