Did the WHO Approval of Traditional Chinese Medicine Caused the COVID-19 Pandemic?
About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article titled “WHO Endorses Traditional Chinese Medicine.” Expect the number of deaths to increase. It went somewhat viral, with over 100,000 views, and then fell silent until last week, when it was relaunched on Twitter, which generated thousands of new views. Several people have asked me to revisit it, in light of the coronavirus and its possible origin in a live animal market in China.
The deaths I was referring to in this title were animal deaths (as I will explain below), not people. What I haven’t written about – and what Twitter is buzzing about now – is the possibility that live animal markets in China, like the one where the Covid-19 virus may have first infected people. humans, include bats sold for use in Chinese medicine or TCM. We now know that the coronavirus almost certainly originated in bats. It is entirely possible – indeed, it seems very likely – that TCM is responsible for the emergence of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
The title of my article was perhaps more prescient than I thought at the time.
Indeed, a scientific article that has just been published bluntly blames Covid-19 on TCM. The paper argues that
“a live or recently deceased infected bat species has been handled by traders because of its value in TCM, and such an infected individual, or the bat or bat products still infectious, may have been the route by which the virus entered the exotic meat market in Wuhan. ”
Let’s take a step back and examine the involvement of the World Health Organization in this debacle. Just a year ago, the WHO added a chapter on TCM to its official international classification of diseases (ICD-11) for the first time. He apparently took this step after strong lobbying pressure from China: as a story from 2018 in Nature underline:
“During the last years, [China] aggressively promoted TCM internationally both to expand its global influence and for an estimated global market share of US $ 50 billion. ”
This WHO action is the result of a long effort by its previous director (she left in 2017), Margaret Chan, who “worked closely with China” to get WHO to approve TCM.
“risks legitimizing an underlying unfounded philosophy and unscientific practice … Whatever its objectives, the WHO chapter [on TCM] is unlikely to do anything other than fuel the growing sales of largely unproven treatments. ”
TCM is not a medicine. It is little more than a set of traditional beliefs (or a philosophy, such as Nature called) on various concoctions and their health effects. Most of these beliefs have no evidence that they provide any health benefits. Many of them derive from a pre-scientific view (which is not at all unique to China) that eating an animal gives some of that animal’s properties. This is total nonsense, of course.
Unfortunately, TCM is far from harmless, as I pointed out in my 2018 article. TCM led to the horrific slaughter of the last remaining rhinos in Africa in order to cut their horns, which are sold to be part of elixirs that some people mistakenly believe that they confer strength, virility or other health benefits. Two years ago, National Geographic published a heartbreaking photo essay showing some of the terrible results of rhino poaching in Africa; look at these pictures here (note: these are very graphic).
TCM is behind the slaughter of the last remaining wild tigers, which have all but disappeared in Asia, so men can foolishly eat their bones, claws and genitals mistakenly believing that the tiger’s parts will make them manly. Here too, National Geographic has details and photographs cruel “tiger farms” that are almost too painful to look at.
TCM also nearly wiped out the pangolins, a gentle and completely harmless animal that has been killed in large numbers because TCM practitioners mistakenly believe its scale has some medicinal value. (They don’t.) For more on this nefarious practice, check out this article I wrote in 2017.
And donkeys too: the Independent reported last november that “half of the world’s donkey population could be wiped out in just five years, due to increased demand for their skins, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.” The world’s donkey population is now in a state of crisis, according to the article, due to increasing demand in China for donkey skins, which are used to make eijao (donkey skin glue). , a popular TCM product with no evidence of any medical benefits. Literally millions of donkeys are slaughtered for nothing.
Before people accuse me of cultural insensitivity, let me add that there is no legitimate reason to use terms like “Chinese” medicine, or American, Italian, Spanish, Indian or [insert your favorite nationality] Medication. There is only medicine – if a treatment works, then it is medicine. If something isn’t working, it’s not a drug and we shouldn’t be selling it to people with false claims.
TCM has been a scam for decades: It was revived and heavily promoted in China by former dictator Mao Zedong, who himself didn’t believe in it, but touted it as a cheap alternative to real medicine . I won’t be going back here, but see these stories from Alan Levinovitz in the slate and David Gorski at Scientific Medicine.
WHO is now under new leadership, but I see no sign that it is revising its endorsement of TCM, which is still greeted on the WHO website. Now we see that in addition to the unnecessary slaughter of thousands of animals, some of which are likely to become extinct as a result, TCM could also create conditions that lead to new human pandemic diseases.
The new scientific article which I mentioned above – the one that explains why the bat species trade for TCM may have caused the current pandemic, concludes that “a change in these practices is strongly recommended”.
That would be the understatement of the year.
It is sadly ironic that the WHO, which in many ways has led the fight against the Covid-19 virus, may have contributed to the conditions (live animal markets trading in wild animals) that allowed the virus to spread throughout the human population. It is too late to prevent this, but it is not too late for the WHO to take action to prevent the next pandemic: it can and should remove TCM from its official guidelines.
As for China, it should recognize that the profits it derives from sales of animal parts for TCM are more than outweighed by the damage caused by these practices. China should stop promoting TCM and ban the killing of wild animals for false medical reasons.