Monday, February 10, 2020

Quackery and the Coronavirus Epidemic

Although the fatalities of this new coronavirus has not reached the degree that many existing diseases have such as the widening spread of Dengue fever, or the re-newed rise of TB, it has certainly fuelled the fear of many. Frightened people will take desperate measures and we witness this happening. In China even the government is resorting to untried and untested remedies from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in India the repeatedly discredited homeopathy is being recommended.

We cannot say for sure if TCM, and in particular the use of some herbs does not have a palliative value in the treatment of coronavirus symptoms even if we do not know what the active ingredient is or the best method of administration might be but we can be confident, it hold no curative value.

Shuang Huang Lian is a syrup made from honeysuckle and other plants and is most commonly used to treat coughs, sore throats and high fevers. It is now being advertised for use in the treatment of the coronavirus epidemic by the likes of the state-run Xinhua news agency but since no clinical study had been carried out, it is unknown whether the medicine could prevent or cure coronavirus. China's National Health Commission issued a notice on the treatment of the coronavirus , asking medical institutions to ‘actively promote the role of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) during treatment’, two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the ‘combination of Chinese and Western medicine.’

With homeopathy, however, we are more than certain it acts no more than a panacea. In India, the government sponsored ayurveda health system which homeopathy is a major component has become a multibillion-dollar industry in India, a $4.5 billion market and projected to increase to $13 billion by 2025. Ramkrishna Yadav — better known as Baba Ramdev - runs an ayurvedic business surpasses the sales of such giants as Nestles.

In China, TCM is also big business and is worth $130 billion, according to the country's State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is being promoted by the Chinese authorities to enlarge China’s herbal exports and to gain recognition for Chinese herbs. China’s government has been lobbying the World Health Organisation for its acceptance and suitability to offer a false respectability of its clinical reliability.

In 2018, the WHO gave its approval to include TCM in its influential global compendium (known as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD), which includes a chapter on traditional medicine for the first time.

Some scientists fear such actions confers legitimacy on unproven therapies and say WHO overlooked both the toxicity of various herbal medicine and the lack of evidence it works. While those who supportanimal rights warn it will further endanger animals such as the tiger, pangolin, bear and rhino, whose organs are used in some TCM cures. The Scientific American magazine called the WHO move ‘an egregious lapse in evidence-based thinking and practice.’

 A 1998 study found 99 percent of TCM scientific papers published in China produced positive results — statistically improbable and a good sign of fraud. Around a third of TCM drugs, when tested in British laboratories, turned out to contain conventional medicine—often in dangerously unsafe doses where supposed herbal painkillers had ibuprofen in them, for example.

What is clear is that the endless drive for profit exerts a detrimental influence over medicine and it will receive a government stamp of approval for purely monetary gain. Nor should we be at all surprised that the popularity of cheap ‘complimentary and alternative medicine’ solutions are in those countries which for whatever reason decline to  devote their social spending budget on providing effective health services.
More background reading on Traditional Chinese Medicine here

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