Sunday, January 27, 2013

Vietnam - Herbal medicine ingredients leave experts skeptical

The Hanoitimes - Half of the materials used to produce herbal medicine sold at markets are imported and their quality remains a question to both relevant authorities and consumers, health experts have said.

Doctor Le Viet Dung of the Ministry of Health's National Institute of Medicinal Materials said that although Vietnam had been known for diversified herbal resources of about 4,000 plants for medicine production, the country still had to import at least 54% of products to meet local demand.

The rest were either collected naturally or planted domestically.

"There are many kinds of herbs in a herbal remedy - the number of herbs can total hundreds, but the amount used in a herbal remedy is not very much. Thus, enterprises aren't attracted to investing in this industry," Dung said.

Meanwhile, Doctor Tran Thi Hong Phuong, deputy director of the ministry's Department of Traditional Medicine said the quality of herbs remained out of control as up to 80% were imported in small volumes across border gates and then sold at markets.

Verifying the quality of herbs mostly relied o­n traders' experience. Thus, many herbs were imported without clear origins or quality certificates. Some had already been extracted as a substance before being imported, she said.

Dung agreed, adding that the institute took a survey o­n herb markets in Shichuan District in China and found that the price of herbs was much higher than the same kinds imported to Vietnam.

Results from the ministry's Department of Traditional Medicine investigation of more than 190 samples of herbs, collected in 70 health clinics from five cities and provinces last October, showed that 66% of herbs were substandard, had low-quality extracts or were being mixed with impurities.

Notably, three imported kinds of herbs which widely appeared in herbal remedies such as bach linh (poria cocos), tho ty tu (cuscutasinesis) and hong hoa (flos carthami) were mixed with cement and chemicals that cause damage to human kidneys and livers.

Last April, some 130 children were hospitalised due to serious lead poisoning caused by banned traditional medicines.

These children had been fed a kind of powder medicine in orange or reddish brown colour. The powder, made from many kinds of leaves and other additives, had been very popular among parents to treat their kids for thrush, rickets and anorexia.

According to experts, an area of herb cultivation should be zoned off to supply qualified herbal materials and a policy should be built to encourage enterprises to invest in this industry.

Dung said the National Institute of Medicinal Materials had conducted several projects o­n multiplying rare herbs and got success, but the stable output for both enterprises and farmers remained a thorny problem.

He added that some kinds of herbs such as North Korean ginseng must be imported as Vietnam's atmosphere and land was not fit to cultivate this herb. Thus, relevant authorities should strengthen inspections o­n herbs while consumers should find a reliable source to buy herbal medicine with clear origins and labelling.

There are about 500 herbal medicine businesses nationwide. About 50,000-70,000 tonnes of herbs are put into use annually.

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