The Daily Dose: How the World Health Organization squares the circle of promoting Traditional Chinese Medicine use against COVID-19

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Early during the coronavirus pandemic, we highlighted multiple statements by Chinese health officials about the efficacy and effectiveness of Traditional Chinese Medicine against COVID-19 and its symptoms. While deep down, we’d like to believe in TCM’s effectiveness— the allure of thousands of years worth of knowledge is undeniable— there simply isn’t much in the way of hard, scientific evidence for most of its practices.

We’ve wondered how the World Health Organization, presumably a science-based international institution but one that also champions non-scientifically validated alternative medicines like TCM, squared the circle of not pissing-off Chinese officials over TCM remedies while also chastising other countries for promoting unproven remedies (rightly so). Thanks to an article in Nature, we now have an answer. Here it goes:

“The WHO initially discouraged the use of traditional remedies to treat COVID-19. For the first months of the outbreak, they were listed on the agency’s website as ‘not effective against COVID-2019 and can be harmful’.

The guidance has since been updated and the warning removed. A WHO spokesperson, Tarik Jašarević, says the original statement ‘was too broad and did not take into account the fact that many people turn to traditional medicines to alleviate some of the milder symptoms of COVID-19’. Jašarević says the guidance stresses that there is no evidence that any current medicine — traditional or otherwise — can prevent or cure the disease, and that the WHO does not recommend self-medication with any substance as a prevention or cure for COVID-19.”

So self-medicating with unproven traditional medication is a no-go but being medicated with a unproven traditional medication by someone else is okay?

In light of the recent media coverage of the Korber et al. pre-print paper “Spike mutation pipeline reveals the emergence of a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2”, we’re presenting a SARS-CoV-2 phylogenetic paper that has been peer-reviewed. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents data from an analysis of the coronavirus’ genome. According to Forster et al., “The network faithfully traces routes of infections for documented coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, indicating that phylogenetic networks can likewise be successfully used to help trace undocumented COVID-19 infection sources, which can then be quarantined to prevent recurrent spread of the disease worldwide.”

Even before the current pandemic, epidemiologists have increased the use of cutting edge technology to facilitate the collection of meaningful, real-time information. That trend has only increased under current COVID-19 conditions. A paper in Science details a joint Anglo-American effort. “We established the COronavirus Pandemic Epidemiology (COPE) consortium to bring together scientists with expertise in big data research and epidemiology to develop a COVID-19 Symptom Tracker mobile application that we launched in the UK on March 24, 2020 and the US on March 29, 2020 garnering more than 2.8 million users as of May 2, 2020. This mobile application offers data on risk factors, herald symptoms, clinical outcomes, and geographical hot spots.”

Let’s end this round of news with some positive developments. Everyone knows that life under lockdown is brutal. Thankfully, there’s an end to it and a way of reaching the promised land without throwing away public health officials’ advice (looking at you America). Infection rates and fatalities have been decreasing steadily across Eastern Asia and Australia, with Singapore being a notable exception. As a result, they are beginning to reopen for business. As per the Guardian, “Countries across the Asia-Pacific region have announced plans to cautiously reopen for business as governments around the world race to reboot economies devastated by the coronavirus pandemic… Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia have all vowed to get their residents back to school and work in the coming days as Covid-19 infection rates slow.” Other countries joining the trend include Thailand, Vietnam, and New Zealand. Keep hope alive.

Thanks for reading and let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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