GENEVA – Healers throughout the world have used herbal remedies for centuries to prevent and treat diseases. But it is in China that the practice has been more widely used and documented.
Advocates have campaigned to integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine into general global health care and those long-standing efforts of traditional Chinese medicine have paid off: the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the Organization, is expected to be successful. World Health, formally approve the latest version of its influential world influence. compendium, which includes a chapter on traditional medicine, as early as Saturday.
However, not everyone is happy with the controversial movement. Some in the biomedical community say that the WHO overlooked the toxicity of some medicinal herbs and the lack of evidence that works, while animal rights advocates say it will put animals in greater danger such as the tiger, the pangolin , the bear and the rhinoceros, whose organs are used in some TCM cures
In a strongly written editorial, Scientific American magazine called the measure "a serious lapse in evidence-based thinking and practice."
Dr. Arthur Grollman, professor of pharmacological sciences and medicine at Stony Brook University in New York, agrees with this evaluation. "It will give legitimacy to unproven therapies and significantly increase the costs of medical care," he said.
"The widespread use of Chinese herbs of unknown efficacy and potential toxicity will endanger the health of unsuspecting consumers around the world."
Details on traditional medicine will be included in the 11th version of the WHO global compendium, first known as the International Statistical Classification of Related Illnesses and Health Problems or DAI.
It is an important document that classifies thousands of diseases and medical diagnoses, influences how the research is conducted and can be used to determine insurance coverage.
The WHO said that "the purpose of the ICD is to capture information on all health conditions and their treatment, the reason for including the conditions and practices of traditional medicine is that it is used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world."
Although traditional medicine originated in ancient China, nowadays it is widely used in Asia, even in Japan and Korea, and it took WHO more than a decade to get the representatives of Asian countries to condense thousands of years of knowledge in a unique classification system.
Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson, said the diagnosis of traditional medicine is poorly documented or not documented, and its inclusion in the ICD "will link traditional medicine practices with global standards and the development of standards."
However, he added that the inclusion of traditional medicine "is not an endorsement of the scientific validity of any traditional medicine practice nor of the efficacy of any intervention of traditional medicine."
Chinese leaders have been lobbying for the movement. For them, it's a great victory and the momentum has come from the top: when President Xi Jinping visited the WHO headquarters for the first time in Geneva in 2017, he brought a bronze statue with acupuncture marks on his body.
The country has been promoting traditional Chinese medicine on the world stage, both to improve its image and global influence, and for a segment of a growing international market. In China, TCM is worth 130 billion dollars.
The country's "strategic plan" for the development of traditional Chinese medicine in 2016 supports the expansion of Chinese medicine abroad and advocates the use of Beijing's global Belt and Road economic initiative to promote traditional Chinese medicine.
But the decision of the WHO has left some scientists perplexed.
The efficacy of Chinese medicine in most cases is not proven, and only a few herbs have been systematically tested for toxicity or carcinogenicity in the same way as Western medicines in the United States and Europe, Grollman said.
In his research, Grollman observed Aristolochia plants that have been used for a long time for medical purposes and found that they can cause cancer and kidney failure.
"Empirical knowledge based on tradition should not be allowed to" triumph "over the scientific method of public health," he wrote in 2016 in the EMBO magazine.
David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, said the evidence that any form of traditional medicine works is "despicable."
"We have seen acupuncture as it gained the most traction in the West," he said.
Some studies have found a small effect, but it is not clinically significant, "he said. There is endless evidence that there is no difference in where the needles are placed. These imaginary meridians are unfounded, he added.
A remarkable drug that has emerged from Chinese medicine is artemisinin for the treatment of malaria, for which the Chinese scientist Tu Youyou won a Nobel Prize in 2015.
But Colquhoun says that this is an exception, not the rule.
"It would be very dangerous to use it in a herbal way, it's good because it has been purified and the dose can be controlled," he said.
Many wildlife conservationists are concerned about the implications for wild animals if the industry grows without further "support and clarity actions by global public health authorities and nations regarding the acceptable practices of traditional Chinese medicine. "
John Goodrich, chief scientist and senior director of the Tiger Program for Panthera, which protects wild cats, acknowledged that many TCM bodies have already removed parts of wild animals from their pharmacopoeia, but noted: "Any recognition of Traditional Chinese Medicine a World Health entity "The world community will perceive the stature of the organization as a seal of approval of the United Nations on general practice, which includes the use of remedies that use parts of wild animals."
"The fact of not condemning specifically the use of traditional Chinese medicine that uses parts of wild animals is extremely negligent and irresponsible," he said.
Panthera said that more than 5,000 Asian leopards have been used in commerce in the past two decades due to the demand for leopard bone and wine pellets.
The safety and effectiveness of MTC is still debated in China, where it has adherents and skeptics. In 2016, the death of a young Chinese actress who decided to treat cancer with TCM instead of chemotherapy sparked a debate about the efficacy of Chinese medicine.
Mark Fan, 26, works at an investment bank in Beijing, believes the practice is a "fraud".
"I've tried traditional Chinese medicine so many times when I was young, but it never cured any of my diseases, all my diseases were cured by modern medicine," he told CNN.
But others share the views of Li Huimin, 30, a project manager, who took Chinese medicine to regulate her hormones and irregular menstruation after a miscarriage.
"I think Chinese medicine helps you get rid of the disease from its roots, Western medicine helps you deal with the symptoms, not the causes," he said.
While WHO maintains that the inclusion of traditional medicine in the ICD is not an endorsement of its scientific validity, critics say that this nuance could be lost since WHO does issue guidelines and advice to member countries on things like vaccines, medications and diets.
"WHO documents call for the integration of 'traditional medicine, of proven quality, safety and efficacy', and remain silent as to what traditional medicines and diagnostics have been shown," said Dr. Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter.
Nanlin Fang and Yong Xiong of CNN in Beijing contributed to this report
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