PM Phuc urges development of traditional pharmaceuticals to raise living standards

Wednesday, 2017-04-12 10:12:19
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PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses the opening of the Government's National Conference on Development of Pharmaceuticals in Vietnam in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai on April 12. (Credit: VGP)
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NDO – As a land bestowed with great potential for developing traditional pharmaceuticals, especially rare medicinal plants, Vietnam has an invaluable herbal treasure and that all 63 provinces and cities across the country are able to develop this field, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has stated, urging the development of herbal medicine to raise living standards of Vietnamese people.

The PM made the suggestion during chairing a government-hosted national conference on traditional medicine development in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai this morning.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Medicinal Materials, to date, Vietnam has recorded 5,177 plants and mushrooms, 408 animal species and 75 kinds of minerals used as medicine in the country. Of these, about 70 species have the potential to be exploited with total reserves of about 18,000 tonnes per year. During investigation of indigenous knowledge, a list of medicinal plants from ethnic minority communities has been collected with nearly 1,300 folk remedies.

In Vietnam, the domestic demand for traditional pharmaceuticals is about 60,000-80,000 tonnes/year. The volume of exported pharmaceuticals is estimated at nearly 5,000 tonnes, bringing in a total of over US$6 million per year. Economic value derived from the cultivation of medicinal plants is much higher than that of other crops (5-10 times higher than that of rice).

According to the Minister of Health, Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, despite great potential of medicinal resources, there is a paradox that Vietnam now only satisfies 25% of its demand, with the remaining 75% depending on imported products.

Currently, the number of species of medicinal plants in Nature is limited (only about 206 species of medicinal plants can be exploited naturally), many of them are at risk of exhaustion. Meanwhile, Vietnam has not yet transformed such precious materials into high value commodities and for widespread use. For example, France and the US extracted taxon from red pines to produce cancer drugs in 1994, generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue each year. However, Vietnam has not produced this medicine yet, despite owning Lam Dong’s red pines – a rare plant with the highest level of active cancer treatment in the world.

Affirming potential of large consumption markets, PM Phuc said that according to WHO statistics, more than 80% of the world's population use traditional medicine, especially medicinal products, even developed countries. In Vietnam, medicines from medicinal plants accounts for at least 30%. This is a great opportunity for Vietnamese medicine to grow, he said.

As the size of medicinal plant cultivation and production in Vietnam is still small — especially some medicinal plants are at risk of disappearing — the PM pointed out the need for a clear legal policy framework for the development of Vietnamese pharmaceutical materials.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc visits some booths featuring Vietnamese pharmaceutical products on the sidelines of the conference. (Credit: VGP)

He praised efforts made by some localities for their interest and success with mass production of a number of medicinal herbs, such as turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and Ngoc Linh ginseng (Panax vietnamensis or Vietnamese ginseng). Another promising sign, according to the PM, is that the source of herbal medicine has increased by 10% per year. The country has 59 provinces and cities with traditional medicine hospitals; district-level hospitals have traditional medicine departments, while many clinics and households have raised traditional medicinal plants, thereby promoting implementation of combining modern and traditional medicine for treatment.

He also clearly pointed out the limitations as some ministries and branches have not paid attention to development of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine, and also the fact that the promotion of domestic traditional pharmaceuticals is still weak compared to other countries in the region.

Offering orientations in the development of medicinal plants, the PM emphasised that it would be ineffective and unsuccessful if Vietnam do not produce value-added medicinal herbs with good technologies but only raw pharmaceuticals. In order to develop the pharmaceutical industry in Vietnam, it is necessary to pay great attention to trade promotion, he affirmed.

He suggested relevant branches and localities, especially the Ministry of Health, re-examine the role of medicinal plants on the national scale to meet domestic demand, while reorganising the pharmaceutical industry to turn it into a strategy for Vietnam’s health sector.

The government leader requested formation of three centres across the country to focus on researching and popularising traditional medicine. The Ministry of Health is responsible for presiding over the development of key scientific and technological programmes on traditional medicinal materials, with a view to preserving genetic resources and development of rare and endemic pharmaceuticals.

There should be a policy of recognising and commercialising traditional medicine, along with providing support for projects of farming and processing pharmaceutical materials with mechanisms applied to hi-tech agriculture.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc inspects the artichoke paste production line of Traphaco Sapa Company in Lao Cai Province. (Credit: VGP)

PM Phuc asked the Ministry of Health to select 100 precious medicinal herbs among 5,000 plants and medicinal products of the country to expand the domestic market for medicinal plants, accompanied by the promotion of large-scale intensive farming with advanced quality.

At the conference, the PM directed relevant ministries, agencies and localities to use medicinal plants as health supplements for people, even in meals. In particular, the health sector should expand the list of health insurance for the use of medicinal plants and traditional medicines with specific mechanisms for payment of traditional drugs in examination and treatment under health insurance.

He proposed to strengthen training of traditional medical staff, facilitate supervision over imports, exports, distribution and circulation of pharmaceutical materials, and enhance prevention of illicit trafficking and trade frauds to protect domestic pharmaceutical industry.

He also urged related ministries, sectors and localities to further raise public awareness on the importance of traditional medicine and medicinal plants, while promoting start-ups in this potential economic sector. Provinces and cities need to develop planning for the development of traditional medicinal materials, as well as creating favourable conditions for projects on pharmaceutical plant development across the country.

Earlier, the same day, the PM paid a visit to the artichoke paste high-tech production line of Traphaco Sapa Company in Lao Cai Province.