5th International Congress on Traditional Asian Medicine (ICTAM)
Halle (Saale), 18.-24. August 2002

Rahul Peter Das

This ICTAM was an important event from the perspective of both scientific merit and representation — not the least also for the City of Halle and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg —, and was taken notice of by important public media too. The positive impression that it has left can easily be perceived from the fact that, while a long time span of eight years lay between the fourth and the fifth ICTAMs, and while it was relatively easy to gain acceptance for Halle as the venue, after this fifth ICTAM there was the unprecedented number of six serious candidates for the sixth ICTAM, all of them promising to hold the conference within two to three years. These were locations in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Russia (Buryatia), Turkey and the United States of America; some of these applications were supported by important instances of the state. The University of Texas at Austin was chosen as the next venue.

A significant factor leading to this positive development is certainly the fact that there were several very prominent participants. Among these were a member of the Indian Cabinet (the Minister for Health and Family Welfare), a Secretary of State from his ministry, the Deputy Premier of a republic (Buryatia) of the Russian Federation, a personal physician of the Dalai Lama, and the President and Vice-President of the German Physicians' Society for Acupuncture, with approx. 11.000 members the largest society of its kind in Europe.

Based on the comments of many participants it can, however, also be inferred that a significant positive factor was the influence of the conference on the awakening or reawakening of interest in a forum bringing together for an intensive exchange of views not only persons from various disciplines, but also from various professions and countries. In this connexion the particularly stimulating role of the many plenary sessions in furthering this exchange was highlighted; this corroborates the effectivity of the novel conception of this conference.

Various intiatives, particularly on Asian medical systems in a Western environment, were intensively discussed during this ICTAM, and it may be presumed that some of these will lead to visible results, since several of those taking part in relevant discussions are also active and prominent actors on the national or EU stage. Moreover, the first intensive exchange of views on Tibetan medicine in the context of modern health care systems took place during this conference; this will surely have consequences particularly in the medical and pharmaceutical spheres.

The participation of a largish number of persons from Asia and Eastern Europe was subsidised. All in all, 374 persons were registered as legitimate participants; amongst these, 18 were students. Establishing the legitimacy of the registration turned out to be problematic inasmuch as not only individuals, but also professionally organised trafficking gangs from some Asian and African countries attempted to obtain entry permits for the EU through the ICTAM. It was also necessary to register many participants without prior payment of the registration fee, as this registration was the precondition for obtaining funds for participation in their home countries. However, it turned out that the major portion of this group of participants did actually participate. Nevertheless, the preparations, connected with considerable costs, for the number of participants mentioned constituted a great risk for the organisers. But for the generous support of the City of Halle, the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and several private sponsors, it would not have been possible to minimise this risk, or to financially support the participation of selected individuals.

Ultimately, however, in spite of all efforts not all registered persons could participate. There were various reasons for this, the most important being, apart from financial problems, probably caused by the international political situation and natural events that frustrated the organisers' plans. Among these were the general fear of travelling, and particularly flying, after the events of 11.9.2001, the tightened security and entry regulations and, last but not least, the flood calamity that afflicted Halle and its environs at the very point of time of the ICTAM. As an example for the influence of these events, it may be mentioned that not a single one among the registered participants from Pakistan or Africa could obtain an entry permit; this pertained to 48 persons, approx. 13% of all registered participants.

Nevertheless, about 270 persons (not counting students) actually participated in the ICTAM. One did, however, often gain the impression that during the meeting times the number of participants in the city and its surroundings could have been less, and, conversely, more at the actual conference venue.

It should also not be overlooked that this was the first time that the ICTAM did not take place on the "home turf" of one of the Asian medical systems; due to this, the hitherto usual large number of participants from the organising country could not be reached. In fact, only about 23% of all participants came from Germany itself; in Surabaya, Bombay and Tokyo the locals had numbered over 40% in the most unfavourable case. By contrast, in Halle the number of participants from India was higher than the number of participants from Germany.

On the other hand, it must be emphasised that these numbers represent a degree of internationalisation that does not appear to be common for a conference in Germany, and especially in an internationally little known region like that of Halle.

Attention should also be drawn to the relatively meagre number of participants from Halle and its surroundings. Even though the activities in connection with the floods certainly played a role in this connexion, it was striking that the five evening lectures in German for the general public were visited by only about 130 persons, and that at the conference itself there was hardly anyone from the medical or pharmaceutical departments of the University present. This makes it clear that, in contrast to large parts of the general public, in the academic sphere the acceptancy of Asian medical systems cannot simply be presupposed. This must have been an incisive experience for many participants from the Asian countries who were, maybe for the first time, confronted with the reality in the countries of the West also highlighted by various plenary sessions. This problem of the acceptancy of Asian medical systems outside Asia, particularly by public health systems, necessitates a serious scrutiny of the matter that can be furthered especially by a forum such as the ICTAM, probably most effectively, however, if it does not convene in surroundings in which Asian medical systems do not have problems in being accepted anyway.

The 374 registered participants came from a total of 36 countries (place of residence, not country of origin). Their breakdown is as follows:
Australia 3 India 108 Pakistan 23
Austria 5 Indonesia 1 People's Republic of China 12
Bangladesh 7 Iran 16 Philippines 1
Belgium 1 Israel 3 Poland 2
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 Italy 1 Russian Federation 9
Canada 2 Japan 6 Sweden 2
Czech Republic 1 Lithuania 2 Switzerland 2
France 1 Malaysia 1 Sri Lanka 1
Germany 102 Mongolia 1 Thailand 1
Ghana 5 Nepal 3 Turkey 2
Greece 1 Netherlands 5 United Kingdom 11
Guinea 11 Nigeria 9 United States of America 12

The practical realisation of the congress organisation was entrusted to the company konzept+form of Halle. They have done a good job, as is also documented by the comments received subsequently.