Traditional & Chinese Medicine

“Complementary and alternative Medicine has really important perspectives, and we need to separate the trade of endangered and threatened Wildlife from T&CM, in order to stand a chance to eliminate this billiondollar industry.”
Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen

When walking the streets of Chinatown Singapore, Traditional Chinese Medicine stores were located nearly on each and every corner.

Some shops were very fancy, exhibiting huge Shark Fins in glass domes facing the streets alongside horns originating from the endangered Saiga Antelope.

But what surprised me the most, were the completely normal stores, - selling Shark Fins, CocaCola, dried Seahorses, Chocolate covered Cookies, Octopuses, Sea Cucumbers and Incense Sticks - side by side.

Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen


Never had I imagined, that accessing endangered species, would be that easy. Neither, that all types of social classes, rich as well as poor, would buy these species, - just as simply as walking though the fruit and vegetable section in the supermarket, picking and choosing the apples and pears looking most tasty. And they bought a lot !

I did not pass a single empty Traditional Chinese Medicine shop. All were busy.


At one point I passed a store with huge see though plastic sacks filled with tiny shark fins, another store with boxes outside the store withholding dried sea horses…




Witnessing these endangered species, being sold in such vast numbers, made it difficult to imagine how it would ever be possible to create a more sustainable future for the Oceans, - before it´s too late. A beyond gloomy realitycheck. I was infuriated and vexed.

But instead of continuing in this stagnation, - I decided to do som research. I wanted to try to understand what lies beneath the idea of Traditional and Chinese medicine and perhaps get another, wider perspective on the billiondollar industry instead of just focusing on the destruction of the planets and Oceans biodiversity.


And in fact, Traditional and Chinese Medicine withholdes some really important perspectives.


Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen

Of cause, it may seem difficult to separate the practicing of Traditional and Chinese medicine into different categories, - especially when standing outside the industry and working to enhance sustainability.


But there are several reasons, - good, fair and completely understandable reasons, for the practicing of Traditional and Chinese Medicine. These reasons are important to know, when discussing Traditional and Chinese Medicine, since this wide spectrum in fact withholds the good, as well as the bad and the ugly.


Traditional and Chinese Medicine (T&CM) originates from ancient times.




According to World Health Organization (WHO) it is “the total sum of the knowledge, skill, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.”


In other words, T&CM is often also known as indigenous folk medicine, since the practice has been refined though out centuries. T&CM is roughly said a holistic health care, where consumption and natural ingredients plays a key-role.

Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen

Though, WHO also stresses the fact that "inappropriate use of traditional medicines or practices can have negative or dangerous effects" and that "further research is needed to ascertain the efficacy and safety” due to the T&CM´s pseudoscientific cocoon, - also an important aspect to take into consideration when discussing the different types of T&CM.


But this “complementary and alternative medicine” has a really important perspective.


In the last decade traditional medicine has regained a lot of its popularity, especially due to the global growing population of poverty.

The high cost of drugs and scientific medication, forces a majority to choose the traditional medicine, since this is either affordable, accesable - or even possible to grow or make at home.


Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen

Also, there is an increase in drug resistance to common diseases like for instance bacteria infections, malaria and sexually transmitted diseases, - which also means that a therapeutic approach to alternative traditional medicine, becomes very attractive.


This is an overall picture of T&CM, - and an understandable one of such.


The discussion on weather people should be allowed to use traditional medicine or not, - is therefore very tricky, - since one surely can´t ´deny people to use alternative medicine, when unable to pay for the high commercialized scientific medication, or have become resistant to other types of drugs.




Therefore when discussing the trade of endangered wildlife, - it should be kept as a discussion about threatened or endangered wildlife trade, - and not enrolled in an overall discussion of T&CM and weather or not T&CM should be allowed.


It is possible to find a lot of Pseudoscience in T&CM, - which is a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method. And as WHO also stresses, - the Traditional medicine can have dangerous effects if used inappropriately - and this is also due to the Pseudoscience, as well as the lack of control and restrictions with T&CM. Never the less, - this is a method for a lot of people worldwide, to have some sort of medication.


The bottom line is : T&CM can not be generalized into a “bad thing”. It is a plausible and understandable method of practise.

But! We need to separate trading of endangered Wildlife from T&CM.

Wildlife Trade is in a completely different category, - since this withholds another important aspect. The aspect of completely destroying the Planets ecosystem and pushing numerous species on the edge of extinction. Something, which cannot be explained nor justified under any circumstances.

Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen

It is important create this differentiation between T&CM and wildlife trade, - if we want to stand a chance of eliminating the trade of threatened or endangered wildlife.

In the period between 2005 and 2018, WHO worked on developing national policies and regulations of T&CM and Herbal Medicines, among populations of Member States in the WHO European Region.

In the period between 2005 and 2018, the Member States demonstrated a “strong commitment” to the regulation and resignation of T&CM, - but however, - only 11 Member States developed a national policy by 2018…


T&CM has been around for centuries, and as explained, T&CM is such wide-ranging, and important for the existence of some people around the world, that it is nearly unethical to ban.


But trading endangered wildlife should be banned. And in order to stand a chance of banning this, - we need to fokus specifically on this isolated billiondollar industry and worldwide issue.

Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen

When I revisited the Traditional Chinese Medicine stores the next day in Chinatown Singapore, - I suddenly also noticed the many different types of dried herbs and seeds, - tea and fruits in between the endangered wildlife ready to be traded.


Though unfortunately, the amount and diversity of threatened and endangered wildlife did not seem less demoralizing at all.


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