A crowd gathered at a Shanghai hospital, lining for remedies made with plant mixtures and animal parts including scorpions and freeze-dried millipedes — medicines that China hopes will find an audience overseas.
With a history going back 2,400 years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is deeply rooted in the country and remains popular, despite access to Western pharmaceuticals.
The authorities are hoping to modernize and export the remedies, but they face major obstacles.
A veritable forest of medicinal plants surrounded patients waiting at Yueyang Hospital’s pharmacy. Some left with boxes of pills, others took away plastic sachets filled with herbal extracts.
Lin Hongguo, a 76-year-old pensioner, has bought herbal remedies that he would boil to make a tea to treat his “slow-beating heart.”
“I prefer it to Western medicines. It’s not about the cost, it’s because it works well,” he told reporters.
Another patient, pet fish seller Wang Deyun, 51, is also a believer.
“Two months ago my skin had an allergic reaction to a modern medicine for high blood pressure,” she said from her hospital bed.
However, after a treatment of facial masks and plant infusions, she said she is almost fully healed.
Traditional medicine is subsidized in China and is cheaper than Western medicine. It consistently makes up one quarter of the country’s pharmaceuticals market — even as China increasingly opens up to modern medicine.
The WHO is next year to include a chapter on traditional medicine in its “International Classification of Diseases” — a tome of reference for medical trends and global health statistics.
China hopes the WHO inclusion will spur global recognition of its traditional remedies as it seeks to export them.
However, Beijing still faces significant hurdles, not least the fact that TCM focuses on tailoring treatment to each individual, which means different people with the same condition can be prescribed different medicines and dosages.
“It’s like a painting — it’s composed differently each time, while Western medicine is more similar to photography” with its standardized products, said Wang Zhenyi, a proctologist at Yueyang Hospital.
That is the crux of China’s challenge in gaining overseas acceptance: Its traditional medicine is largely incompatible with modern clinical trials, which require an identical product to be tested on a large number of patients.
As these medicines typically contain dozens of ingredients, understanding how they work together and proving their effectiveness is a complex task.
Even within China there have been public skirmishes over the efficacy of TCM, pitting its proponents against doctors who advocate evidence-based, peer-reviewed medicine.
Conservationists have said that growing demand for products like rhino horn and pangolin scales — which are used by some practitioners even though they have no proven medical properties — have decimated vulnerable species.
China last month partially lifted a ban on trading tiger bones and rhino horns, despite warnings from conservationists, although state media later quoted an official as saying the change had been “postponed.”
Chinese experts have said endangered animal parts are increasingly being replaced by synthetic versions, but TCM might still prove a tough sell abroad.
“I think the best potential is in the consumer market, such as nutritional supplements,” said Tony Ren, a pharma analyst with Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong.
Few Western pharmaceutical companies are keen to try to untangle these difficulties.
However, French biotech company Pharnext has taken on the challenge, partnering last year with Tasly, one of China’s biggest producers of traditional medicines.
Together, they are looking to transform the industry by streamlining “the procedures to have a more stable production of plants, which have identical properties, and understand why the mixture works,” Pharnext founder and chief executive officer Daniel Cohen said.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and