It’s been a turbulent year for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The set of medical practices based on Chinese traditions and pharmacopeia, some dating back two millennia, enjoys backing from the central government, which has encouraged doctors specializing in Western medicine to switch their careers to TCM, introduced TCM classes to elementary-school children, and pushed hard to get TCM recognized by the rest of the world. But negative news about TCM continues to increase public skepticism about its value.
But many expect such scandals to continue. On Weibo (in Chinese), one user commented: “No matter what scientists say, the top authorities won’t listen. All Chinese medicines, TCM injections, and Chinese patent drugs are vague about their components, efficacies, and pharmacological functions. As long as TCM is closely integrated with ideology and culture, the market will never be properly regulated.”
In October, Legal Weekly reported (in Chinese) that the market size of TCM injections is 80 billion yuan ($12 billion). However, the numbers of adverse reactions to such injections were shockingly high from 2013 to 2015, around 127,000 cases per year. Amid rising public concerns about the safety of TCM injections, the drug administration stopped including data about such cases in its 2016 annual report. “Cherish your life, stay away from TCM” was one reaction on Weibo (in Chinese).
TCM by computer
In an attempt to mesh the ancient concept of TCM with modern times, a community hospital in Hangzhou created a computer program that can generate TCM prescriptions based on a patient’s symptoms. The program, Sina reports (in Chinese), is a possible solution to the shortage of qualified TCM doctors — there are around 450,000 TCM doctors compared with about 2.8 million regular doctors in China.
But it’s not clear if automated TCM will win over any skeptics. On Weibo (in Chinese), one wag commented: “The intention behind this innovation is quite obvious: to make up for the completely unscientific nature of TCM by infusing some scientific elements into it, such as computer programs.”
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