CORONAVIRUS CRISIS: IS TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE BOGUS?

ASSOCIATE EDITOR ZHI JIAO DANIELLE GOH, WILLIAM LIGHTHART WRITE – The race for a COVID-19 vaccine has become intense, as countries continue to bear economic damages of lockdown extended into June. According to Nature, more than 90 vaccines are in development and a U.S. biotech company, Moderna Inc., has emerged from the competition and has successfully moved into phase II.

As we hold hopes for the vaccine, alternative treatments have been proposed—no, not the highly publicized, man-made “hydroxychloroquine” that President Trump has promoted and allegedly himself used. For the last three months, many ethnic Chinese, including Dr. Robin Wang, a Professor of Philosophy and Director of Asian Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University, have been diligently boosting their immune systems with natural herbal remedies drawn from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a unique medical system many grew up with.

Dr. Robin Wang, Professor of Philosophy at LMU

TCM is based on more than 3500 years of Chinese medical practices or, as Dr. Wang, a scholar of Chinese and author of the definitive ‘Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture’ (Cambridge University Press, 2012), put it in an interview with us, “TCM has accompanied the Chinese civilization who had survived epidemics throughout its history for thousands of years.”

Herbal medicine, acupuncture, gua sha – scraping of one’s skin with a massage tool to improve blood circulation – and cupping therapy – placing cups on the skin to create suction in order to heal the blood flow- are popular forms of TCM. Preliminary evidence suggests that TCM may be used to treat lung conditions, especially with COVID-19. (Similarly, Tu Youyou (屠呦呦), a Chinese Nobel Prize winner who has focused her career on malaria cures, turned to medical texts from ancient Chinese dynasties to find a cure for malaria. Ultimately, she discovered artemisinin, which is derived from extracts of sweet wormwood. Eventually, this was used to treat malaria in 2006).

The western mainstream media has been reluctant to report on TCM treatments. Why? In part, perhaps, because of growing anti-China sentiment. The Trump administration’s peddling of xenophobia has cast aspersion on non-western treatments. In addition, there is a lack of robust medical documentation to substantiate reported healing effects of TCM treatments.  As previously reported by NBC, the Chinese government’s push for Chinese civilians to practice TCM nevertheless presents “direct and indirect risks to patients,” insist Western medical scholars and practitioners.

They have also advised that TCM might well act to engender adverse symptoms and side-effects when used in conjunction with modern medical formulas for treating COVID-19. Finally, there are difficulties linking, or factually proving, potentially positive effects of TCM practices.  Given all this, nontraditional, Eastern treatment protocols are not yet considered by many beyond China to be the reliable path towards a COVID-19 cure.

On the other hand, Western doctors, some observers feel, have a habit of prescribing a ‘one size fits all’ approach for patients with similar symptoms, while TCM believes that everyone is unique and so treatments are prescribed accordingly. There is a strong emphasis on prevention in TCM, whereby herbs are used to boost the immune system in order to fight off diseases. The TCM philosophy is: Since viruses existed millions of years before humans, we must seek to coexist with them rather than eradicate them.

But the top priority for most countries around the world is the rapid identification, verification, and mass production of a cure and vaccine for COVID-19. Countries are desperate to reopen their economies fully, but this cannot be done, and the virus cannot be properly contained, without a vaccine. While the search for a cure is propelled by the need for swiftness, researchers and consumers alike are adamant that a vaccine must be guaranteed to be safe, with minimal side effects. This takes considerable time.

As the world searches for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, the media, especially in Western countries, has almost exclusively followed the race to a lab-created vaccine. But COVID-19 impacts all countries, regardless of differences in the history of medical philosophies and practices.

Maybe it’s time for change in the West, as famed Professor Wang insists, Perhaps lab-oriented science as well as TCM preventive measures should be integrated for the betterment of humankind.

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