by Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Australia has cemented its place as a world leader in the integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with the latest high-level exchange launching in Sydney.
Speaking at the official launch of a medical exchange supported by the Song Qing Ling Foundation, China Eastern Airlines and the Bank of Communications, NSW State Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner told Xinhua on Monday that Australia remained at the forefront of medical research through government-to-government support and Australian University's institutionally progressive approach to TCM.
"Another thing that's positive is some of our universities are getting right on board this issue of complementary medicines, particularly the University of Western Sydney is doing a lot of work in this space. Here in Sydney we've got a really strong Chinese medical community as well - so we think that there's a lot of positive things happening and we want to work with the Chinese government and those practitioners to make good things happen," Mr Stoner said.
TCM has been recognized as a health profession and accredited practice in Australia under the encompassing term "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM), referring to the three modalities whose practitioners will be included in a national register acupuncture, Chinese medical diagnosis and Chinese herbal dispensing.
In July this year, TCM practitioners here joined Australia's national registration and accreditation scheme under the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
With the inclusion of Chinese medicine under the national registration system, came the first Chinese Medicine Council of New South Wales. CMCNSW will set standards and policies within New South Wales for Chinese medicine practice and ethics covered by the national law for regulation and accreditation.
TCM, which encompasses many different practices, is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism and dates back more than 5,000 years.
Underlying its practice is a unique view of the world and the human body that is different from Western medicine concepts.
This view is based on the ancient Chinese perception of humans as microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe, interconnected with nature and subject to its forces.
"It is outstanding to see Chinese medicine being recognized as part of Australia's national registration and accreditation scheme for health professionals," University of Technology Associate Professor Zaslawski said.
"Previously Chinese medicine standards and policies were self- regulated under state associations so now with a state governing body, the Council will be responsible for the management of all notifications and complaints about the conduct, performance or health issues of Chinese medicine practitioners and students.
"This is an important and exciting time for Chinese medicine practitioners as a system of national registration will ensure meeting standards for registration and consistency across all states and territories which will extend the right to practice anywhere in Australia (within the scope of their registration)," he said.
Chinese Medicine has been used in Australia for more than a hundred years since the 1840s when the Victorian Gold Rush witnessed the first wave of Chinese migration.
However, Kevin Chang, President of the NSW Association of Chinese Medicine, told Xinhua TCM has only recently gained popular approval.
"Today Chinese medicine has been embraced by so many Australians after the influx of so many experienced practitioners since the 1990s and Australians are very open-minded with a willingness to try new things."
Yet only a short few years ago TCM practitioners were scarcely seen anywhere in the country, Society of Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture (Victoria) Inc., (SCMA), for example, has grown from 12 members in 1990 to well over 200 members today.
The importance of TCM and CAM is reflected in the fact that courses in Chinese Medicine are taught in many Australian tertiary institutions, a fact that has won both criticism and praise in Australia.
The official registration of TCM practitioners has galvanized new and controversial standards. The chairman of the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia (CMBA), Charlie Xue, has previously defended the demanding criterion, saying they were set "following extensive consultation with practitioners and other stakeholders".
As far as the ability to practice is concerned, the new status allows registered TCM practitioners to make diagnoses and recommend treatment, placing TCM in Australia on an equal footing with western medical practitioners practicing scientific, evidence- based medicine.
The rush to harness the power of TCM is driving research across Australian universities and has built a bridge between institutions committed to furthering the science of healing.
For example, researchers from the University of Adelaide are seeking to unlock how TCM affects the human body in an effort to integrate it with Western medicine.
The work will be the focus of an Australian-Chinese research center, in a unique partnership bringing together Adelaide University and the Shanxi College of TCM supported by the Zhendong Pharmaceutical Company.
Professor David Adelson, the director of the Zhendong Australia- China Centre for Molecular Traditional Chinese Medicine, said TCM has secrets the rest of the world is only now appreciating.
"There's been thousands of years worth of clinical trials in China so we have a pretty good idea this stuff works, but people have no idea why.. We will be able to actually look at the effect at the molecular level and see whether these things have a true pharmacological (drug-like) effect or if it's a placebo effect." He said.
The philosophy of TCM is to seek balance by strengthening the patient's body rather than treating the specific disease, as western medicine practices.
The NSW Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, told Xinhua that Australians are right to embrace that philosophy.
"We'd be pretty dumb not to recognize the more than 5,000 years of practice in Chinese medicine, I personally have experience where Chinese medicine has worked for me, so if we can put the best of the west and the best of the east together I think we can make some real inroads into people's health whether that' s here in Australia or in China."
The National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) estimate that 2 in 3 Australians now use TCM each year and 42 percent do so to prevent or manage chronic conditions identified as national health priorities.
But it hasn't been all 'plain sailing' for TCM in Australia with a powerful lobby group, The Friends of Science in Medicine ( FSM) leading a push to abolish the teaching of alternative medicines across Australian universities.
Professor John Dwyer of the University of New South Wales and a leading critic of TCM has made plain his view that TCM is not only unscientific but a cash cow for universities.
"It should be a policy that all universities, higher education institutions, should not be involved in in this woolly teaching.. I suspect that these are well attended, popular, money-earning courses for cash-strapped universities." Professor Dwyer has said.
The move to ban higher education teachings of alternative or any kinds of medicines at a time when Australia's ageing and sedentary population is coming to bear on the national health system is, in the words of the highly-respected Australian researcher Professor Alan Bensoussan at the University of Western Sydney a backward step.
He says, "To exile these practitioners and others will damage patient care, close off communication with other healthcare providers and diminish the ability to improve practice over time."
According to Dr Wardle, a naturopath and Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, FSM's claims ignore evidence collated in higher educational institutions
"They're actually not interested in evidence, because the overwhelming evidence is that putting CAM into universities has increased the standards, decreased the fringe element, and improved public safety, so it definitely smacks of dogmatism," said Dr Wardle.
"They love to say that there's no such thing as complementary medicine and conventional medicine, there's just evidence-based and non-evidence-based, but, for example, St John's Wort for over a decade now has been shown to be equally as effective as any pharmaceutical indication for mild to moderate depression, yet there's still a large group of doctors who refuse to integrate it simply because it's a herbal medicine," Dr Wardle said.
Dr Bensoussan, a Professor of Chinese Medicine, and the interim Director of Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine, is one of Australia's most prominent researchers in complementary medicine.
Dr Bensoussan told Xinhua at the launch of the Project Care initiative a medical exchange bringing Chinese and Australian doctors to those in need that TCM had developed and strengthened over many generations of medical practice.
"Chinese medicine is unique in that it has over time received substantial support from the Chinese government interested in protecting its cultural and medical legacy.
"It is now a unique international resource of medical knowledge that awaits further research and development to tease out the most valuable interventions for use in an international context. We look forward to continuing our research partnerships with key Chinese collaborators to assist the development of important Chinese medicines for chronic disease management and prevention." Dr Bensoussan told Xinhua.