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B.C. takes steps to legitimize traditional Chinese medicine

The Globe and Mail, Saturday, December 30, 2000

By Caroline Alphonso

VANCOUVER -- More than a century after Chinese people came to Canada, their traditional medicine, once dismissed as hokum by Western doctors, is being recognized in British Columbia as a legitimate, regulated health profession.

After years of nagging the government, B.C.'s traditional Chinese medicine doctors, who use herbs to cure ailments and insert ultrafine needles into a patient's body to relieve pain, are the first in Canada to receive licences.

"It's going to change everything," said TCM doctor Henry Lu.
The Ministry of Health's decision earlier this month to regulate Chinese medicine practitioners follows a recommendation by British Columbia's Health Professions Council two years ago.

British Columbia will be the only place in North America where Chinese medicine practitioners will be given the title doctor by a regulatory body, said Randy Wong, registrar at the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia, the regulatory body.

In some U.S. jurisdictions, students can become qualified in oriental medicine, but they are called practitioners.

"Without regulations, it's very chaotic," Mr. Lu, founder of the International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Vancouver, said. "Patients don't know what's good or not. If it's properly regulated, it can help the Canadian people."

A doctor of TCM is trained in acupuncture, rehabilitation exercises and Chinese medical herbs. The more than 500 TCM doctors in B.C. will have to pass an exam to be give a licence.

For the past 20 years, Mr. Lu has been struggling to get regulation in place for Chinese-medicine doctors. Licences solely for acupuncturists were approved last year. Acupunture will now be incorporated under the new regulation.

"Many diseases that have been treated by Western medicine are not quite successful," Mr. Lu said.

He added that more and more people are turning to traditional Chinese medicine, a system of treatment that goes back more than 2,000 years in China, as a cure for their illnesses and chronic pain.

"[Chinese medicine] is not to cover it up. It's to cure it," Mr. Lu said.

Mr. Lu is cautious about the bylaws that will be imposed on TCM doctors by the college.

The number of years of study required to be licensed as a TCM doctor should be strictly set, he said. At his college, students study Chinese medicine for four years.

Mr. Wong said it will take at least two years to license TCM doctors in B.C. after bylaws on education and the prescription of herbs are approved by the government and the TCM community.

For years now, almost anyone in B.C. could hang up a shingle and call himself a Chinese-medicine doctor. Now, with the new regulation, those who don't receive licences could be prosecuted for practising, Mr. Wong said.

"It's really a major step in integrating traditional Chinese medicine as part of the health-care system," Mr. Wong said. "It's the best of both worlds: Western regulations and Eastern practices."

But for some doctors of the trade, this approval by the Ministry of Health is only one step in a long battle to legitimize their profession. Patients still have to pay for TCM treatment privately.

James Knights, who is a TCM doctor in Victoria, wants eventually to see the medicine become an acceptable practice in hospitals.

Mr. Knights belongs to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Association of B.C., and has been pushing for licences for about 10 years.

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