Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Peace Independence Democracy Unity Prosperity
Ministry of Health
3rd Conference on Traditional Medicine in ASEAN Countries in Tawangmangu, Indonesia on 31 October -2 November 2011.
Development of traditional medicine in Lao PDR
Traditional Medicine in Lao PDR
Traditional Mmedicine (TM) is a part of Lao culture since time immemorial. Lao people have their own traditional healing system which was handed down from generation to generation by various approaches. From the commencement of edification of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), the integration of TM and Western Medicine in the examination and treatment of diseases is a continuing policy of the Lao PDR government.
The government fully recognizes the high value of TM and has widely encouraged its application, both in public and private sectors. Since the government budget is limited and communications in the country are very difficult, especially in remote areas, the utilization of TM as well as herbal medicines become a pertinent and necessary element of the Primary Health Care for solving the problems of drug supply as well as less access to health care service of the local communities.
Medicinal plants and Traditional Medicine of Lao PDR
Laos is relatively abundant in natural resources that include plants and other forest resources. The total area of the country is 23,680,000 ha, of which 47% (roughly one million hectares) is covered by forest. The floral resources are commonly viewed as plentiful and rich in diversity. According to foreign reference, it is estimates that 8,000 to 12,000 plants species grow in Laos, more than 5,000 species are medicinal plants and herbs. Nevertheless, Lao traditional practitioner or healers use only less than 500 species for completing their remedies.
The richness of Lao forest also provides a favorable environment to animal survival and reproduction, and thus to a high bio-diversity. The Lao forest resources have provided an appropriate materia medica whose effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of diseases was discovered by our ancestors. Most of the medicinal plants are untouched with scientific research, but still available and have been used by local people as food and drug.
In the previous years the Institute of Traditional Medicine (ITM) carried out many searches of Traditional Knowledge in various ethnic communities, in the pagodas, translated “Tarm” and “Pali Sanscrit’ scripts into common dialect, selected good remedies, published and distributed to public for use. Lao TM contributes in ameliorating people health care service, taking important part in poor alleviation plan of the government. In addition, surveys of medicinal plants in various localities throughout the country are also implemented; more than 1,500 species were documented. All relevant information from the survey was entered into the NAPIS Database. At the same time herbarium specimens of the surveyed species were collected and deposited at ITM’s herbarium room.
Policies on the Promotion of Traditional Medicines
In 1993, the government of the Lao PDR approved the National Drug Policy Program which consisted of 13 components. One of the thirteen components is specialized to traditional medicines.
In 1996, the Ministry of Health issued the policy on the promotion traditional medicine in Lao PDR. This policy had 7 components as follows (I) establishment of traditional medicine network, (2) goods and moral support to traditional healers, (3) technical assistance to traditional medicine sector, (4) integration of traditional medicine with primary health care program, (5) research on medicinal plants and traditional medicines enhancement, (6) intellectual property rights on traditional medicines, and (7) registration of traditional medicines factories and medicines.
In 2000, Law on Drugs and Medical Devices was issued and promulgates. This law defines principles, rules and measures relative to the management of cultivation, growth, protection, exploitation, production, importation, exportation, distribution, possession and use of drugs and medical products, in order to ensure the availability of high-quality, safe and appropriate-priced drugs and medical products for preventing and treating diseases and ensuring good health for the population.
In 2003, Prime Minister Decree No. 155/PM was issued. This decree defines measures related to the promotion, management, exploitation, production growth, and use of natural resources to protect the country’s medicinal natural resources and rich biodiversity, and to ensure the sustainable use of medicinal natural resources.
Traditional medicine network
Under the umbrella of Ministry of Health, the following institutions are responsible for the promotion of the use of TM.
Traditional Medicine Division
This Division was established in 2004 and situated in the Food and Drug Department, it is responsible for the exportation, importation and registration of traditional medicines and health supplements, as well as the establishment of traditional medicine factory.
Institute of Traditional Medicine (ITM)
Recognizing the important role of TM, the Lao government has founded Institute of Traditional Medicine (ITM) since 1976. It is the only Institute of this kind in the whole country and is conducting adaptive research on Medicinal Plants and Lao Traditional Medicine (LTM). The main tasks of the Institute are as follows:
- To gather traditional medicine knowledge of different Lao ethnic groups in order to preserve the knowledge of our ancestors
- To carry out surveys of country-wide medicinal plants for establishing database of medicinal plants of Laos.
- To analyze active ingredients and chemical compounds of medicinal plants.
- To produce herbal medicinal products in pilot scale.
- To provide examination treatment and rehabilitation services to outpatients.
- To contribute to the conservation of medicinal plants.
- To provide technical support to provincial traditional medicine Stations.
The current activities at ITM include effort to strengthen the infrastructure of our institution, especially to install some instruments for the conduct of scientific research. A need is felt to upgrade the ITM’s capability to allow it to perform these activities, which will enable ITM to fulfill its charge and responsibility as an Institute of Traditional Medicine in the true sense of the word.
Traditional Medicine Stations
There are 12 TM stations or units located in 12 different provinces throughout the country. The stations are the place where local people can go to seek treatment of certain health complaints, to receive advice on disease treatment. Each station is generally composed of a staff of three to five.
Traditional medicines unit of provincial/district hospitals
Some provincial/district hospitals established traditional medicine unit in order to provide health care services to local people.
Development of traditional medicines
Based on the above mentioned laws and regulations some pharmaceutical factories tried to produce qualified TM for domestic consumption. At the same time, traditional healers of various ethnic groups also involved in the development of TM in different forms such as TM of the home-based factories, health supplements, sauna and traditional massage.
The man power based production is replaced by machine based production in some private traditional medicines factories. The state pharmaceutical factories which initially were committed to produce western medicines are now produce traditional medicines in significant proportion. The packaging of traditional medicines is more attractive than the previous years.
The development of TM in Lao PDR has two main approaches:
- Promote the use of original traditional medicines which keep the traditional way of treatment at grass-root level.
- Promote the use of ethno medicines as the basis of the research for new molecules which could be candidates of the new medicines from plants.
The two approaches have many activities, such as:
- Support the activities of local healers;
- Support the production of qualified and safe traditional medicines;
- Distribution of traditional medicines to health facilities at provincial and district levels;
- Publication of medicinal plants booklets/posters for primary health care;
- Training on the use of booklets;
- Infrastructure strengthening for the quality control of traditional medicine;
- Establishment of Medicinal Plant Preserves;
- Inventories of medicinal plants;
- Domestic and international cooperation.
- TM registration
- Licensing for manufacture and Import-Export biodiversity
- Organized the 3rd National Traditional Medicine Meeting in September 2009
All of the above activities are important and necessary for the development of TM in Lao PDR.
The use of medicinal plants and TM is still important in Lao PDR. At present time, we consider that the role of medicinal plants and TM is not putting in to the health care system yet. The ITM in cooperation with public and private institute tried to promote the development of traditional medicine. Many plant samples were inventoried, collected for production and chemical screening. At the same time, some medicinal plant preserves were established for research and study purposes. However, many areas of the forest are still untouched. Therefore, the continuing studies are expected to discover many more bioactive compounds. It is not inconceivable that one of these compounds may serve as a candidate for development into a new pharmaceutical that could alleviate human sufferings on our planet.