KEY POINTS

  • Western doctors are surprised Chinese doctors in Wuhan are also using traditional Chinese medicine to treat patients in Wuhan
  • TCM was used in more than half of confirmed Covid-15 cases in Hubei
  • Dried bats used to treat asthma and arthritis in TCM

Doctors in Hubei Province, epicenter of the raging Covid-19 outbreak with 71,223 confirmed cases globally as of Sunday, are also treating patients of this highly-contagious coronavirus with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), in addition to traditional Western drugs.

This treatment mix, which is raising concerns among Western doctors, is taking place mostly at hospitals in Wuhan, the provincial capital where the outbreak began in December 2019. The use of TCM alongside Western medicine was reported by Wang Hesheng, the incumbent vice-minister of the National Health Commission (NHC). Wang was recently appointed a standing committee member of Communist Party of China Hubei Provincial Committee.

He revealed TCM was used in more than half of confirmed Covid-15 cases in Hubei. He also said top Chinese TCM experts have been sent to Hubei for “research and treatment,” without elaboration. In addition, more than 2,200 TCM workers have been sent to Hubei.

“Our efforts have shown some good result,” said Wang on Saturday, again without explaining what his statement meant.

The effectiveness of TCM is unknown because TCM remains poorly researched and studied outside China. TCM is being criticized for its use of potentially toxic plants and animal parts, including those from endangered species. Covid-19 is suspected to have been transmitted to humans by bats.

Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means it jumped from animals to humans. These viruses often originate in bats, said Peter Daszak, disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance. Daszak also said Covid-19 might have traveled through another species on its way to infecting humans.

Dried bats are used to treat asthma and arthritis in TCM while bat excrement (guano) is used in TCM as a treatment for night blindness.

The global casualty count from the coronavirus is already disconcerting. As of 5:07 p.m., Sunday, Hong Kong time, the official toll from Covid-19 worldwide stands at 71,223 confirmed cases (of which 70,445 are in mainland China) with 1,770 deaths (of which 1,765 are in mainland China). China's National Health Commission (NHC) reports 10,607 people have recovered from the disease.

Traditional Chinese medicines have been touted as treatment for the coronavirus Traditional Chinese medicines have been touted as treatment for the coronavirus Photo: AFP / NOEL CELIS

Chinese health authorities, however, are placing great faith in the success of the ongoing human trials in Wuhan of the American-developed anti-viral drug called "remdesivir." Originally developed by California-based Gilead Sciences as a treatment for Ebola virus disease, remdesivir "could be an effective treatment for 2019-nCoV and should be formally investigated as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of 2019-nCoV pneumonia."

Remdesivir two weeks ago entered clinical trials in Wuhan on patients with Covid-19. It was previously tested in two trials in China on patients with moderate and severe symptoms of 2019-nCoV, said Merdad Parsey, Gilead’s chief medical officer.

The trials are being conducted at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan under Phase III conditions. Gilead Sciences is shipping enough doses to treat 500 patients and is accelerating production in case the clinical trials prove successful.

The new trials immediately began a day after Chinese researchers recommended remdesivir be assessed in humans as a potential treatment for 2019-nCoV.

“We hope good results will be achieved in the trials,” said Sun Yanrong, deputy director of the science and technology ministry’s China Biotechnology Development Center.

In the study published in Cell Research, researchers wrote, “Our findings reveal that remdesivir and chloroquine are highly effective in the control of 2019-nCoV infection in vitro."