Chinese Medicine in Tanzania

“Medicine as Business: Chinese Medicine in Tanzania” by Elizabeth Hsu in China Returns to Africa: A Rising Power and a Continent Embrace (2009)

Hsu’s impressive study is based on interviews with “every doctor in Tanzania and Kenya” between 2001 and 2004. She identifies five ways in which Chinese doctors have been involved in Tanzania.

The first group included doctors sent by the People’s Republic of China in since the 1960s, each of China’s province “assigned” to an African nation: Yunnan to Uganda, Shandong to Tanzania and so on. She notes that by 2001, only four remained. This group was more oriented towards Chinese traditional medicine. The second group of doctors were trained in Western medicine and had worked during the building of the TAZARA railway, treating Chinese and local railway workers. The third group was composed of a combination of scientists, doctors, chemists, botanists and a medical anthropologist, some from China and some from other parts of the world conducting research and collecting data on tropic flora and fauna used for medicinal purposes. This research unit in 1991 “identified over 4,000 healers and tested 3,000 herbs” (224).

The fourth group included Chinese doctors sent to Tanzania and also Tanzanian medical students sent to China for medical training. This part was utterly fascinating and I wish Hsu had written more. Tanzanian medical students had six years of medical training in the PRC and they had to complete one semester in acupuncture. They were also exposed to traditional Chinese medicine from qigong to taijiquan (225). Hsu stated that some of the Tanzanian patients she interviewed insisted on the superiority of Chinese medicine compared to Western medicine.

The final group consisted of doctors who arrived in Tanzania since 1996. Pressures by the World Bank to privatize health care enabled these doctors to open up private practices and engage in “medicine as business” (227). Hsu notes that this is part of a larger pattern of Chinese people going to African countries to do business in multiple industries due to increasing pressures they faced in China. Hsu writes “in contrast to the socialist government-sent medical teams that included an acupuncturist, the private Chinese medical entrepreneurs almost exclusively rely on ‘Chinese formula medicines’ (zhongchengyao),” which are easy to consume but their benefits are debatable.

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