Conferences & Symposia


Challenges to Asian Medicines: Drawing a New Big Picture (2024)

Join us in Taipei on Jun. 20-24, 2024!

Official conference website & program
(Please note that your membership renewal is integrated in the registration process for the conference)

The Joint Conference of IASTAM and ASHM at Academia Sinica, in Taipei, presents an opportunity to take stock of the current state of Asian medicines from a different vantage point, to examine the global flows of medical knowledge, practice and materials, and to provide space for inter- und transdisciplinary research-exchange, to discussing intersections and problems, develop networks of collaboration, exchange and consider how to move forward. It is the encounter of Asian medicines with the wide range of (so called) traditional or alternative medicines in the Western hemisphere, and also the encounter between practitioners of biomedicine and of Asian medicines.

The Joint Conference will gather studies from clinical trial specialists, anthropologists, historians and clinicians, economists and political scientists, conservationists, botanists, translators and more. Panels and Keynote speeches will cover the following fields:

  1. Multiple Histories of Asian Medicines
  2.  Cultural Heritage of Asian Medicines
  3. Indigenous Knowledge Documentation and Intellectual Property Rights
  4. Asian Medicines across Borders
  5. Asian Medicine and Global Health Challenges
  6. Environmental and Climate Change
  7. Asian Medicines and Infectiouse Diseases
  8. Health Promotion, Disease Prevention and Non-communicable Diseases
  9. Asian Medicines for Anti-Ageing and in Care of the Elderly
  10. Spirituality and Religion in the Context of Healing
  11. Ethnobotany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology and Clinical studies: Multi-disciplinary Approaches
  12. Globalization, Standardization, Pharmaceuticalization and Industrialization
  13. Asian Medicine: Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence and Database Development
  14. Medical Ethics, Health Policies and Education
  15. Other Related Topics

Workshops will cover the following topics:

  • Acupuncture – Orthopedics & Traumatology Therapy
  • Body constitution evaluation & Health promotion
  • How to Prescribe for Common Diseases

Description of Each Section:

1. Multiple Histories of Asian Medicines                                     Each medical culture has its own history based on textual tradition, oral transmission, or political processes. Understanding the underlying historical context is essential to avoid misinterpretation, especially when transferring medical knowledge to a different social environment. Apparently never-changing, seemingly static medical traditions such as Ayurveda, Unani (Islamic medicine), Siddha, Tibetan, Korean or Chinese medicine, are not only made up of the thoughts and practices of orthodox textual schools interpreted and debated by individual voices, but they have also dynamically adapted to the changing local circumstances and wider trends in a variety of ways. The reasons and arguments of these debates offer conclusions about fundamental medical issues. The historical and socio-political framings and documentation of medical theories and practice can be viewed from local, regional or global as well as individual, communal, professional, national and transnational perspectives.

2. Cultural Heritage of Asian Medicines                                     Over the past decades, health care providers have increasingly taken culture into account. Although culture is basically intangible, it is conceived as a process through which ordinary activities, including the participation in medical occasions, will take on with emotional involvement. Other than the scientific aspects, Asian medicines are rich and deeply rooted in their cultural heritages. This section henceforth invites papers which pay attention to their respective cultural aspects and try to examine how and to which extents would such factors play roles when the medicines are put into practices. It is also interesting to see how useful insights they may provide to the healers and patients. At the same time, cultural heritage making has become an important nationalist project worth being critically analyzed as such as well.

3. Indigenous Knowledge Documentation and Intellectual Property Rights                                                                             Indigenous medical knowledge (IMK) falls into two categories – scholarly and folklore medicines. IMK had been used since antiquity for treating various ailments and has also served as the basis for many modern pharmaceutical products. It still provides primary healthcare services to more than 80% of the world’s population and it is already a multibillion-dollar business sector (e.g. Chinese traditional medicine, Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Tibetan medicine, etc.). However, some folklore medical practices, which are based on oral traditions,  have been dwindling due to the expansion of modern healthcare services in many countries. Therefore, there is an urgent need to i) document some oral/folklore medical traditions that are near extinction,  ii) protect the vulnerable folklore medical practices through the development of databases, policies, and legal frameworks, and iii) promote fair and equitable distribution of benefits to the indigenous communities from the commercialization of their folklore medical knowledge. This section will describe and discuss the recent developments in the area of ‘folklore medicine documentation’ and the ‘protection of intellectual property rights of the indigenous communities’ in Asia.

4. Asian Medicines across Borders                                              None of the major Asian medicines developed alone. In the past two millenniums, Asian civilizations have been undergoing mutual dialogues and interchanges, therefore, their medicines inevitably correlated each other. This section covers various issues including knowledge transmissions, material exchanges, between south, east, central and west Asia as well as religions, clinical practices, and folk customs. This section invites papers focus on: “How did those medical cultures go beyond the national boundaries?  Why a foreign idea or goods would be accepted by a civilization but not by another?  When would a medical culture spontaneously become interested in another? What factual influences had actually taken place in the Asian medicines after the long historical process?”

5. Asian Medicine and Global Health Challenges                        How could approaches to diet and behaviour in Asian medical traditions help prevent the most common global health challenges through public health programs that promote Physical Activity and Nutrition, fighting Overweight and Obesity, Substance Abuse, promote Mental Health and mindfulness, prevent violence, increase environmental awareness. A panel for new creative ideas extending self-help to communal and national public health frameworks.

6. Environmental and Climate Change                                         Serious anthropogenic environmental changes cause populations to move and transmission of diseases. The world population today is encountering unfamiliar human-induced changes in climates which influence the functioning of many ecosystems and their member species as well as impact on human health. From populations hit by environmental precarity to the climate change effects on medical harvesting, whether wild or cultivated, and the pressure of global supply on regional ecologies, the ecologies of Asian medicine are in flux, and some say threat. With new human migration patterns, the increased penetration of industrial infrastructure into traditional lifeways, and natural disasters across Asia necessitating accessible, practicable and affordable care, Asian medicines are affected by ecological change, and play a role in responding to it. The enviromental changes transform the occurrence pattern of diseases and are likely to affect the medicines adopted. Although there is increasing evidence to show that human health will be affected in many diverse ways, the coping knowledge is still very limited in many professional areas. This section invites papers which emphasized on such environmental risks on human health and also their influence on the development of Asian medicines.

7. Asian Medicine and Infectious Diseases                                   To treat patients with severe, complicated and critical diseases is an important issue in clinical medicine and has been emphasized by doctors since ancient times. In the history, the rise of important academic progress of Asian medicines could be attributed to the treatment of these diseases, such as the outbreak of pandemics. The theories, experiences, first-aid techniques and medicines recorded in the classics are still of practical values in the diagnosis and treatment of these kinds of diseases. This section invites papers which explore the role of Asian Medicines in the above fields, especially while many under-developing areas of the world are still suffering the distributional disparity of modern medicine practices.

8. Health Promotion, Disease Prevention and Non-communicable Diseases                                                              The WHO has long named Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) as the foremost cause of mortality in the world. These are caused by lifestyle, diet, habits, infrastructure, and speak far beyond the clinical encounter to lifeways, cultural practices, environmental issues, poverty and war as well as local infrastructure. When do preventive strategies in Asian medicine function as a vector for furthering health of populations when do they work negatively, figuring Asian medicines as something “merely” preventive and therefore subaltern?  How can Asian medicines be aligned within the public and state view as compatible with achieving WHO goals for preventing NCDs? Health promotion enables people to increase control over their own health. It covers a wide range of social and environmental interventions that are designed to benefit and protect health and quality of life among people. Growing activity of health promotion worldwide has been influenced directly or indirectly by Tai-chi, qigong, yoga, Ayurveda, diet therapy and other Asian medicines. Such practical evidence, along with the upgrade of academic research and the rise of popular interest, show that this will be a growing field in the future. This section invites papers on standards, quality assurance, education, concepts, and other research with the aim to enhance the development of health promotion and disease prevention.

9. Asian Medicines for Anti-Ageing and in Care of the Elderly   Asian societies in 21st century face huge dissonances between growing longevity, concomitantly emerging chronic diseases (dementia, cancer etc.), and simultaneously decreasing numbers of young people who can care for the ageing population, This section invites papers on the biological-clinical dimension of ageing from the perspective of Asian Medicines as well as reflections on the newly emerging medical realities, physicians and caregivers in the hospitals have not been prepared for.  How does materiality participate in the articulation of the social, of the emotion states and sensitivities among elderly, family members, caregivers and physicians?

10. Spirituality and Religion in the Context of Healing                Asian practices for health, healing and spiritual cultivation continue to thrive in the modern world, yet often circulate in new forms. Whether in a burgeoning global marketplace, in the imaginaries of national health bureaus, as the focus of major scholarly initiatives, or as subjects of neurological study. Categories such as ‘alternative’, ‘complementary’, and ‘wellness’, privilege medical authority and distance religion, quietly inserting a separation between ‘medicine’ and ‘religion’ not mirrored in the originary contexts of these practices. How are these modern forms contoured by scientific modernity? Have the ways they are mobilised now changed since they were translocated from their originary times and places? How is our study of past practice shaped by modern agendae, and what methods can we use to better grasp the nuance and concerns of early actors? This section invites descriptive papers of past or present practice, as well as critical engagement with the methods of scholarly approach.

11. Ethnobotany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology and Clinical studies: Multi-disciplinary Approaches                                       How can we improve the value of clinical trials in relation to traditional Asian medicine? Can IASTAM enhance communication across practitioner trial networks?  How can manufacturers, researchers and clinicians produce or participate in better trials, and can the space of the conference provide a network for better collaboration between scientific research organisations and clinical practitioners in such trials? How can multiple professionals interact and collaborate? What are the target diseases on which the researchers and clinicians should focus? Can IASTAM coordinate such large overlapping studies, perhaps in conjunction with the WHO traditional medicine research collaborative networks in the region? Is there a need for a common ethics committee to regulate the conduct of clinical trials? How might clinical trials affect and change the regulatory aspects of traditional Asian medicines?

12. Globalization, Standardization, Pharmaceuticalization and Industrialization                                                                     Supplies of many materia medica are threatened by the vastly increased demands of growing populations and industrial-scale production. Government regulations such as GMP often conflict with traditional modes of preparation. Medical training is being drastically reconstructed on a modern academic model, and in many countries the use of traditional remedies is contested or prohibited by biomedical authorities. How are traditional Asian medicines standing up to these and other pressures? Can they retain their integrity and effectiveness when reconstructed on a quasi-biomedical model? Is this an opportunity for releasing their health-giving potential for a much wider population? How can health-seekers make sensible choices between the wide range of options now available both between and within Asian medical traditions?

13. Asian Medicine: Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence and Database Development                                                             Digital innovations accelerate knowledge turnover and also lead to socio-economic transformations. The digital tools bring benefits to people’s daily life and their applications improve the accuracy, productivity, workflows and access to healthcare system, however, they also bring negative impacts on people’s health outcomes. How and where medical care is delivered is also changed along with the digital innovations, which challenges the traditional role of care providers and their interaction with the patients. However, today Asian medicines are undergoing big challenges. Digital tools for studying Asian Medicines are also on the rise. What standards exist, what tools and methodologies, and how are they changing the kinds of questions we can ask and the scholarship we can do? While the advantages of digital revolution are easy to be addressed, this section will also explore the magnitude of the challenges it creates and how the challenges are faced by the patients, clinicians and health systems of Asian medicines.

14. Medical Ethics, Health Policies and Education                       The rise of Asian medicines as a major economic force has drawn a lot of attention from politicians and economists who are now seeking to claim or protect the patent rights. Ethics affect the practice and the delivery of medicine in all quarters.  From the economic perspective, traditional medicines can be more accessible than expensive biomedical treatments, and have been relied on by some countries as economic triage to deliver medicine to poorer communities. The mass-production of traditional medicines shifts new economies and powers into the market, displacing traditional community networks, and may result in poorer quality, while making medicines more accessible. What are the major directions in which government health policies are moving forward and where the medical ethics should be concerned with? How can individual practitioners and their representative groups, anthropologists and clinical trials researchers keep better professional and ethical track and help shape these changes in national and international health policies and regulations? In the meantime, Asian medicines have become the subjects of formal university curriculum or degree granting in some of the Western medical schools, as well as in the faculty of social sciences or the humanities. Education surrounding these traditions has also changed, as new practices, new work and life schedules and new technologies have given rise to new forms of learning, knowing and transmitting.  The dominance of the academic model of curriculum, shorter training periods, and the loss of ‘apprenticeship’ approach – what impact do they have on the kind of expertise involved in (some) Asian medicines? We invite reflections on how Asian medicines have been positioned and learned within these contexts.

15. Other Related Topics