TRADITIONAL MEDICINE: The government has not held any certification exam or issued any license since 1993 to allow the herbal remedy business to grow
By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter
The Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday promised to list qualifications for herbal remedy dealers after more than 1,000 dealers staged a protest in front of the ministry, saying no license has been issued in 20 years.
Wearing orange shirts and holding yellow signs and banners, the protesters flooded the alley in front of the ministry, sounding air horns and chanting their demands.
A small statue of Taoist deity Shennong （神農大帝, god of agriculture） was set up for trade union representatives to pray, symbolizing their hope to pass on the trade to the younger generation.
Minor clashes broke out between the protesters and police when they tried to climb over railings to enter the ministry.
The protest was led by the National Union of Chinese Medicine Associations of the Republic of China.
“The government has not issued any [herbal medicine dealer’s] license since 1993, and 25 years have passed since then,” Taipei Chinese Herbal Apothecary Association president Ma Yi-tsai （馬逸才） said. “Twenty-five years is a generation, so the majority of us who received a license before 1993 are now over 65 years old.”
He said there is a generation gap in the nation’s herbal medicine trade, and they are worried that it would wither and die out if the problem is not solved.
The Pharmaceutical Affairs Act （藥事法） was amended in 1998 to stipulating that dealers who obtained a license before 1993 can continue operating, but those who wish to become dealers must take professional training courses to obtain a license.
However, the government has not held any national certification examination nor issued any license since 1993, Taiwan Chinese Medicine Youth association chairperson Koo Cheng-pu （古承蒲） said.
There were about 15,000 Chinese herbal remedy shops in 1993, but there are now only about 8,000, with the figure dropping by about 10 percent each year, she said.
The law also allows people who have a traditional medicine practitioner or pharmacist’s license to become a dealer, but most of them choose to work in hospitals or open their own clinics, she added.
“Please save us and give us a livelihood. We can take professional courses and examinations, but do not leave us with no options or license,” Koo said, sobbing.
A 68-year-old protester said his 38-year-old son wants to inherit his shop, but there is no way for him to get a license, so he is afraid that his shop would have to close once he retires.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung （陳時中） stepped outside the building to meet the protesters, promising that the ministry would clarify the legal issues concerning Article 103 of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act in three months to help dealers protect and preserve their trade.
Chinese herbal medicine is governed by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act and drug dispensing practices are mainly performed by licensed pharmacists, so the ministry also has to review the Chinese herbal medicine management system, Chen said.
More than 1,000 members of the National Union of Chinese Medicine Associations of the Republic of China protest outside the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Taipei yesterday against the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act. Photo: CNA