Pivotal year for traditional Chinese medicine after WHO's recognition

2019-06-17 11:04:11 Xinhua Xinhua

Photo taken on June 10, 2019 shows a visitor trying an intelligent device during the Global Health Forum (GHF) of Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) at Qingdao World Expo City in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)

The Global Health Forum of Boao Forum for Asia, in eastern China's Shandong Province, held a sub-forum Wednesday on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bringing the cultural heritage back in the limelight.

In late May, traditional medicine originating from TCM was incorporated into the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), marking a milestone for TCM's internationalization.

"This is actually a recognition of the medical value of TCM and a recognition of the fact that TCM is helping more and more people," said Huang Luqi, president of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.

Huang said that TCM focuses on harnessing the body's ability to regulate itself, which aims at improving a person's self-healing ability, rather than simply detecting and curing diseases.

Christoph Gutenbrunner, director of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Hannover Medical School, said that some long-term symptoms and chronic diseases may not be the focus of Western medicine, such as sleep disturbance and fatigue, but the combination of TCM and Western medicine can provide the patients with a more comprehensive treatment.

Ahmed Bouzidi, president of European Biopharmaceutical Enterprises, regards WHO's acceptance of TCM into ICD-11 as "a concrete example of Western countries being more open-minded."

Though TCM still lacks evidence justifying its clinical effectiveness and safety, which hinders it from going global according to experts, Bouzidi believes that artemisinin is one of the best examples to explain why people should embrace TCM.

Sweet wormwood was used in ancient Chinese therapy to treat various illnesses, including fevers typical of malaria. Nearly five decades ago, Chinese scientists identified its active ingredient, artemisinin.

In 2005, the WHO recommended Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies as the most effective malaria treatment available.

Today, artemisinin is also used to treat other diseases including bilharzia, and some clinical trials for various cancers use artemisinin as well, according to Bouzidi.

"China maybe has to start finding rationales to show the efficacy and the safety of some TCM products, at least the lead products. And that would be a good start," he said.

In March, China established the Centre for Evidence-based Chinese Medicine at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, first of its kind in the world, which was seen as a major step to respond to doubts with clinical evidence, according to Liu Jianping, director of the center.

As a biopharmaceutical entrepreneur, Bouzidi is confident about the future of TCM products tapping into the international market.

"With the right dose here, with the right clinical trials, any medicine showing its efficacy and safety will be used, especially if you're talking about unmet medical needs or affordable medicine," said Bouzidi.

China has signed specialized TCM cooperation agreements with over 40 countries, regions and organizations, built a group of TCM centers in countries and regions along routes of the Belt and Road and opened hundreds of TCM institutes in more than 30 countries and regions.

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