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China has approved three traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products for sale to aid in the treatment of Covid-19, the government’s National Medical Products Administration said on Wednesday.
The agency used a special approval process to give the green light to the three products, which “offer more options for treatment with Covid-19,” it said in a statement.
The herbal products come in granular form and are based on “ancient Chinese recipes,” the statement says. They were developed from TCM resources that were used at the beginning of the pandemic and “have been reviewed by many academics and experts on the front lines”.
The three products are “granules for lung cleansing and detoxification”, “granules for moisture dissolution and detoxification” and “granules for lung diffusion and detoxification”, the statement says.
The safety and effectiveness of TCM is still debated in China, where there are both supporters and skeptics. Although many of the remedies in TCM have been used for hundreds of years, critics argue that there is no verifiable scientific evidence to support their supposed benefits.
In recent years, ancient remedies have been repeatedly touted as a source of national pride by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is himself a well-known TCM attorney.
“Traditional medicine is a treasure of Chinese civilization that embodies the wisdom of the nation and its people,” Xi said in October 2019 at a national conference on TCM. During the outbreak, Xi has repeatedly admonished doctors to treat patients with a mix of Chinese and Western drugs.
According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients received herbal remedies in addition to common antiviral drugs last year.
“By adjusting the health of the entire body and improving immunity, TCM can help stimulate patients’ ability to resist and recover from illness. It is an effective method of therapy,” said Yu Yanhong, assistant professor Head of the National Administration for Traditional Chinese Medicine in China in March 2020.
In a clinical study of 102 patients with mild symptoms in Wuhan, patients on combined treatments compared to control group of patients who received Western medicine only, Yu said. Her recovery rate is 33% higher, she added.
By the end of March last year, China had largely got its outbreak under control – and although there have been occasional flares in various locations, the numbers have remained low and daily life has resumed. The restrictions have been lifted so that people without face masks can travel around the country and gather together.
Authorities have praised TCM as helping to contain Covid symptoms and limit the outbreak. In January of this year, up to 60,000 cans of TCM were sent to frontline police officers to protect them from Covid-19, according to the TCM administration. A number of provinces, including Jilin and Hebei, introduced “TCM Prevention Plans” in January to prescribe TCM for Covid patients.
Now authorities want to expand the industry, which was valued at over 3 trillion yuan ($ 430 billion) by 2020.
The country will set itself the goal of training 100,000 TCM specialists within the next 10 years and implementing measures such as TCM curricula in schools, announced the General Office of the State Council in February of this year. More TCM rehabilitation centers are being built, some with clinical research centers.
State media have also advertised TCM in their reporting; State-run Xinhua news agency reported that TCM offered Chinese Americans a source of “hope” in New York when the city’s public health system was on the verge of collapse and that Kuwait was taking remedial action to treat Covid.
The World Health Organization, which first advocated TCM in 2018, had originally advised against using traditional herbal remedies for Covid-19 on its website – although that line was later removed because it was “too wide”.
Some in the biomedical community say that WHO has overlooked the toxicity of some herbal medicines and the lack of evidence that they work, while animal rights activists say they have animals like tiger, pangolin, bear and rhino, whose organs are used in some further jeopardize are TCM heals.