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Unbelievable Twist: COVID-19 Pandemic Skyrockets Demand for Thai Traditional Medicine – A Miracle or Mirage?

From crisis emerges a beacon of hope, and that beacon in Thailand was no other than Thai Traditional Medicine (TTM). Following the striking onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, this age-old discipline has made great strides forward. It has been identified as a vital part of the Thai cultural tapestry, tying together various aspects from age-old religious convictions to mouth-watering street delicacies.

The 20th National Herbs Expo, which fell between June 28 and July 2, facilitated by the Ministry of Public Health, solidified this position. An overarching increase in Thai herb usage was noticeably evident — an outcome, experts believe, of the ongoing pandemic. This forum allowed attendees – comprised of experts, entrepreneurs, and visitors – to share and acquire wisdom on the marvel that is Thai traditional medicine.

Unfortunately, a cloud of doubt engulfs the effectiveness of herbal remedies, however, the pandemic saw the demand for traditional herbs skyrocket. The reason? On the onset of the pandemic, a rush to stock up on medicine resulted in modern medication shortages. This panic buying, coupled with the country’s strict border regulations, became catalysts for Thailand’s renewed interest in TTM.

According to Dr. Pakakrong Kwankhao, a leading authority at the Thai Traditional and Herbal Medicine Centre at Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, this shortage of modern medicine triggered a shift in the public’s paradigm towards traditional treatment. Moreover, as the medicinal properties of local herbs became more known and appreciated, more people, especially the young, began resorting to traditional herbs to prevent and treat Covid-19 symptoms.

TTM’s accessibility further boosted its appeal. As Adisorn Pukanad from the Thai Traditional Medicine Foundation explains, TTM remedies do not require a doctor’s prescription or a hospital visit. Although these herbs’ efficacy may be marginally lower, they are generally gentler on health. Companies like Herbal One have contributed to the ease of consumption by selling traditional medicinal products like capsules – recognized for their comparative advantages in price and convenience.

The utility of TTM extends beyond the realm of consumables as well. Substances like the herbal mixture used in luk prakob (a herbal compress ball) can be therapeutic as well as soothing. Once steamed, the luk prakob is used for massages, where it slowly releases the liquid from the herbs which is then absorbed by the pores of the skin, aiding blood circulation.

Despite such mountains of evidence though, TTM still faces some skepticism about their efficacy and safety. Critics argue against TTM mainly due to the lack of sound scientific evidence bolstering its potential. However, professionals at Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital are conducting research to support herbal medicine’s treatment of conditions like chronic illness and sleep disorders.

Additionally, to meet the ever-increasing demand for herbs, several hospitals and businesses are partnering with local farms to boost herb production. Other specific herbs not suitable for tropical cultivation are sourced from import wholesalers. In the pursuit of promoting Thai herbs overseas, the Department of Medical Science (DMS) conducts lab work to assess the safety of these herbs.

In summary, the profound value of Thai herbal medicine has not gone unnoticed. The establishment of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine by the Ministry of Public Health back in 2002 was instrumental in preserving and promoting traditional Thai healing methods. Thus, through calculated measures and reliable professional networks, TTM has found its spot center-stage in the contemporary healthcare system.

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