Coronavirus: Can Traditional Chinese Medicine Help Fight Disease? | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW
In a recent article posted to a WeChat public account for medical news, Tang Ying, director of a county hospital in Henan Province, describes how she protects her doctors from coronavirus by giving them Chinese medicine.
Administrative staff who are not in direct contact with patients take dried ginger soup with licorice. Doctors who work in fever clinics should add Guizhi Tang – a cinnamon-based formula – as well as Fuling, a fungus, and Bai Zhu, an herb often used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remedies for its purported benefits. ranging from immunity support to strengthening the function of the spleen.
âThis time at the front of the battlefield against the novel coronavirus, Chinese medicine must not be absent,â Tang wrote.
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Its traditional approach is in line with the Chinese government’s recommendations for treating symptoms of the virus. The advice released by the National Health Commission last week includes supplementing ingredients commonly used by Chinese medicine practitioners with Western drugs.
There is still no known cure for the disease, which was first identified in Wuhan in central China, and has spread to 25 other countries around the world. Without a single solution, some doctors and individuals are turning to traditional Chinese medicine, sparking debates about the effectiveness and safety of these remedies.
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Does TCM work?
“There is this tension between what is identified in a drug and what is identified in ours,” Shelley Ochs, a TCM practitioner in Beijing, told DW. Ochs, who obtained his doctorate. of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said TCM-trained professionals have a different set of considerations when it comes to identifying, combating and preventing disease.
“We target the symptoms that the person has and we target the whole model.”
The Health Commission is promoting traditional medicine after it was used during the SARS outbreak in 2003 for patients who suffered bone deterioration due to the after-effects of steroid use.
The effort is part of a larger push from China to rejuvenate and expand the practice of Chinese medicine, a market that is expected to generate estimated revenue of â¬ 397 billion ($ 433 billion) in 2020, according to Chinese State Council Information Office.
But some medical professionals have responded with skepticism to pressure from China to revive traditional medicine – arguing that ingredients used in TCM treatments lack regulation and testing.
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After the WHO added a section on traditional medicine to its background paper on medicine last year, two European expert groups from the Federation of European Academies of Medicine and the Scientific Advisory Board of European Academies issued a joint statement urging the WHO to reconsider.
“Although there has been some convergence, there is no agreed international standard to allow the collection of comparable data between countries and no common starting point for testing the effectiveness of interventions or monitoring safety.” , indicates the press release.
The recommendations of the China Health Commission regarding the use of traditional ingredients also come at a time when misinformation and unverified cures for the coronavirus are rife. The WHO has tried to trample on bogus remedies, like those circulating online claiming that garlic and sesame oil offer protection against the virus.
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Ming Lei, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine are recognized in his field when it comes to extracting ingredients for new drugs. But the new coronavirus treatment schedule makes it unrealistic to acquire new pharmaceuticals with these ingredients. âThe components could be useful, but they take a long time to develop,â Lei said.
Meanwhile, China has started testing remdesivir, an antiviral drug produced by US pharmaceutical company Gilead, which has not been approved for use but has shown positive results.
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Mix and match
Experts say mixing traditional medicine with western antiviral drugs may be recipe for success
Despite divergent approaches between Chinese and Western medicine, Ochs said it was not uncommon for the two forms to be used in tandem; Traditional medicine is integrated into many public hospitals in China, and TCM doctors in China are trained in Western medicine. Since there is no definitive cure yet, Ochs considers a mixed approach a good option for treating symptoms of the coronavirus, depending on their severity.
Ochs is confident in the health benefits of TCM for his family; They drink pear juice to moisten the lungs, eat congee to keep the digestive system healthy, and take Yu Ping Feng San, a herbal formula to support the immune system, at the first sign of a cold.
But Ochs said she is also seeking information from specific case studies to learn more about the disease and how it manifests. âI would really take into account what we know about the course of the disease,â she said, noting that using traditional medicine does not mean it ignores emerging science in other fields. âYou would be doing your patient a disservice.