Development of Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong

Background

Chinese medicine is an integral part of the Chinese culture. It has been used for prevention and treatment of diseases as well as health maintenance and has made significant contribution to the health of public. It is also very popular in Hong Kong and has been used for years. Many citizens would consult Chinese medicine practitioners and use Chinese medicines.

 

Regulation of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine has a long history in Hong Kong. Starting from the 1980s, society's concern towards Chinese medicine grows, and the Hong Kong Government appointed the Working Party on Chinese Medicine in August 1989. The Working Party was tasked to review the practice and use of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong and advise measures that should be taken to promote the proper use and good practice of Chinese medicine. The Working Party submitted a report to the Hong Kong Government in October 1994.

 

Preparatory Committee on Chinese Medicine

Following the Working Party's recommendations in its report, the Hong Kong Government appointed the Preparatory Committee on Chinese Medicine ("The Preparatory Committee") in April 1995 to make recommendations to the government on the promotion, development and regulation of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. During its four years of appointment, the Preparatory Committee conducted a survey on Chinese medicine practitioners in Hong Kong; reviewed the use and control of Chinese medicine; and recommended measures for regulation and development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. The Preparatory Committee submitted two reports to the government in March 1997 and March 1999 respectively.

For better protection of public health, the Preparatory Committee recommended a statutory body be set up to regulate the practice, use and trading of Chinese medicine; a system of accreditation and regulation which include registration, examination and discipline of Chinese medicine practitioners be established with transitional arrangements for existing practitioners; and a control mechanism, through systems of registration, licensing and labeling be set up to regulate the manufacture, distribution, retail and import and export of Chinese medicines. Regarding the future development of Chinese medicine, the Preparatory Committee recommended full-time undergraduate courses in Chinese medicine be developed and made available in Hong Kong; scientific researches and developments in Chinese medicine be encouraged and supported; and Chinese medicine be included into Hong Kong's medical and healthcare system on a gradual basis. The public and members from the Chinese medicine profession and the trade of Chinese medicines generally supported the Preparatory Committee's recommendations on the direction of development of Chinese medicine.

 

Government Policy

The policy for the future development of Chinese medicine was enshrined in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Article 138 of the Basic Law provides that "the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall, on its own, formulate policies to develop western and traditional Chinese medicine and to improve medical and health services. Community organizations and individuals may provide various medical and health services in accordance with law."

The Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food1 conducted a public consultation on the development of Chinese medicine in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in November 1997 to solicit public opinions. Based on the Preparatory Committee's recommendations and public views collected in the consultation, the Chinese Medicine Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council in February 1999 and was passed in July the same year (www.elegislation.gov.hk).

1 Due to restructuring of the government administrative structure, the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau was reorganised as Food and Health Bureau in July 2007.

 

Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong

The Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549) provides for the setting up of the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong ("The Council"). This statutory body comprises practising Chinese medicine practitioners, members of the trade of Chinese medicines, academics, lay persons and government officials. The Council was established in September 1999 and is responsible for implementing the regulatory measures for Chinese medicine.

For regulation of Chinese medicine practitioners, the Council has so far completed work on the registration of Chinese medicine practitioners under the transitional arrangements and formulated and implemented regulatory measures on the registration, examination, continuing education and discipline of Chinese medicine practitioners.

For Chinese medicines, after subsidiary legislations relating to regulation of Chinese medicines were passed in January 2003, the Council began to accept applications for licensing from Chinese medicines traders and applications for registration of proprietary Chinese medicines in April and December 2003 respectively, so as to regulate sales and manufacture of Chinese medicines. The safety, efficacy and quality of proprietary Chinese medicines will be assessed before the products are allowed to be registered. The dispensation, storage and labeling of Chinese herbal medicines will also be regulated.

After the licensing system of Chinese medicines traders and the registration system of proprietary Chinese medicines were implemented in 2003, legislative provisions specifying that Chinese medicines traders shall apply for a licence and regulations on import and export of Chinese medicines came into effect in January 2008. Legislative provisions specifying that proprietary Chinese medicines shall be registered and clinical trial or medicinal test shall be conducted on proprietary Chinese medicines upon application became effective as from December 2010.

Moreover, legislative provisions specifying that proprietary Chinese medicines shall be attached with labels and packaging inserts as prescribed by the regulations also came into effect in December 2011.

Up to present, all legislative provisions under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance relating to the regulation of Chinese medicine have come into force.

 

Development and Promotion Process of Chinese Medicine

In 2000, the Food and Health Bureau issued Consultation Document on Healthcare Reform, covering ways to promote development of Chinese medicine. An important part of the document is to incorporate Chinese medicine into the public healthcare system, including provision of outpatient Chinese medicine services in the public sector, and introduction of Chinese medicine practice in selected public hospitals, such as carrying out clinical research, and facilitating the development of standards and models of integration of western and Chinese medicines. The plan included the set up of a Chinese medicine clinic in each of the 18 districts of Hong Kong.

Moreover, three local universities have provided full-time degree courses on Chinese medicine, which can produce an adequate pool of high calibre professionals to support Hong Kong's development as an international centre for Chinese medicine.

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is committed to promoting Chinese medicine by taking measures including establishing "Hong Kong Chinese Materia Medica (CMM) Standards Office" under the Department of Health, setting standards for CMMs commonly used in Hong Kong; establishing a network of international scientific research institutions for research and development work. Standards for a total of 200 CMMs were set in 2012. Thereafter, it is planned to set standards for 28 CMMs each year. (http://www.cmd.gov.hk/html/b5/service/hkcmms/development.html)

In addition, according to the 2010 Policy Address, the government would work out a timetable for mandatory compliance with the "Good Manufacturing Practice" for the manufacture of proprietary Chinese medicines, so as to enhance the quality of proprietary Chinese medicines manufactured in Hong Kong. The government and the Council are now extensively soliciting opinions of the trade to map out details of the plan and implementation timetable.

In April 2012, the Chinese Medicine Division of the Department of Health was designated as the "World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine" to help promote regional strategy for traditional medicine in the Western Pacific Region, and develop and improve WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy. (http://www.cmd.gov.hk/html/b5/who/index.html)

 

Chinese Medicine Development Committee

The Chinese Medicine Development Committee (CMDC), chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health, was established in February 2013 to give recommendations to the Government concerning the direction and long term strategy of the future development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. The CMDC comprises representatives from the Chinese medicine practice, Chinese medicine trade, academia, research and development, testing and healthcare sectors, as well as lay persons. Two Subcommittees, namely, the Chinese Medicine Practice Subcommittee and the Chinese Medicines Industry Subcommittee, have also been formed under the CMDC.

As set out in the 2014 Policy Address, the Government has accepted the Committee's recommendation and decided to reserve a site in Tseung Kwan O for setting up a Chinese medicine hospital. On CMDC’s recommendation, the Hospital Authority has also launched the Integrated Chinese-Western Medicine Pilot Programme for in-patients in public hospitals, so as to gather experiences for the operation and regulation for the future Chinese medicine hospital.

The Government has also accepted the Committee's recommendation and announced in the 2015 Policy Address that it will plan and develop a testing centre for Chinese medicine to be managed by the Department of Health. The testing centre will specialise in the testing of, and scientific research on, Chinese medicine with a view to setting reference standards for the safety, quality and testing methods of Chinese medicine. The testing centre will also help promote the Hong Kong Chinese Materia Medica Standards and the reference standards for testing Chinese medicine as authoritative international benchmarks to pave the way for the internationalisation of Hong Kong's Chinese medicine industry.

For more details of CMDC, please visit its webpage at http://www.fhb.gov.hk/en/committees/cmdc/cmdc.html.

 

Way Forward

After the return of Hong Kong to China in July 1997, Hong Kong has entered an entirely new phase in the development of Chinese medicine. It has laid a solid foundation and is making steady progress in law-based regulation, scientific research and education, and serving the public. With the concerted efforts from the industry, the academia, the community as well as the government, and also through collaboration with its motherland and overseas parties, the development of traditional Chinese medicine in Hong Kong will move on to a higher plateau. What’s more, Hong Kong should be able to assume a bridging role and contribute towards the introduction of traditional Chinese medicine into the international arena.