Covid-19: China pushes traditional remedies amid outbreak

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A recent white paper released by the Chinese government claimed that 92% of the country’s Covid-19 cases were treated in some way with it.

Covid-19: China pushes traditional remedies amid outbreak

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TCM is one of the world’s oldest forms of medical practice and includes a range of treatments from herbal concoctions to acupuncture to Tai Chi.

It is hugely popular in China across the generations, although occasionally fierce debates erupt online about its use.

Experts say China is seeking to expand the appeal of TCM both at home and abroad, but healthcare professionals remain sceptical of its usefulness.

Overall effectiveness inconclusive – US

China’s National Health Commission has a special TCM chapter in its coronavirus guidelines, while state media have been highlighting its alleged role in past outbreaks such as Sars in 2003.

Six traditional remedies have been advertised as Covid-19 treatments, the two prominent ones being Lianhua Qingwen – containing 13 herbs such as forsythia suspense and rhodiola rose – and Jinhua Qinggan – which was developed during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak and is made of 12 components including honeysuckle, mint and liquorice.

TCM’s supporters argue that there is no downside to using them but experts say rigorous scientific tests are needed before such formulas are deemed safe.

The US National Institutes of Health said that while it may help with symptom relief, its overall effectiveness against the coronavirus is inconclusive.

“For TCM there is no good evidence and therefore its use is not just unjustified, but dangerous,” Edzard Ernst, a retired UK-based researcher of complementary medicines, was quoted as saying in Nature journal recently.

President Xi unveiling a plaque for the Chinese Medicine Confucius Institute at the Royal Melbourne Institute of TechnologyImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPresident Xi is said to be an ardent supporter of the ancient practice

Nevertheless, TCM is growing in China and seeing an increase in demand internationally. China’s State Council last year estimated that the TCM industry would be worth $420bn (£337bn) by the end of 2020.

President Xi is said to be a “hardcore fan” of the ancient practice and has called it a “treasure of Chinese civilisation”.

But, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that “safety and efficacy issues plague TCM sector and most Chinese people still prefer modern medicine over TCM”.

China’s National Institute for Food and Drug Control last year found toxins in some TCM samples.

Soft power play

Despite Beijing’s persistent efforts to internationalise TCM, many people outside China remain unaware of it.

Critics say China is now using the pandemic as a way to promote it abroad – an accusation that has been denied in state media.

However China has been sending TCM supplies and practitioners alongside conventional drugs and equipment to Africa, Central Asia and Europe.

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“We are willing to share the ‘Chinese experience’ and ‘Chinese solution’ of treating Covid-19, and let more countries get to know Chinese medicine, understand Chinese medicine, and use Chinese medicine,” Yu Yanhong, deputy head of China’s National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said in March.

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