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Europe’s doctors urge tighter curbs in Chinese medicine

Chinese medicines ‘must meet’ same standards of proof and evidence as conventional medicine

Mark Gould

Thursday, 07 November 2019

Organisations representing Europe’s leading doctors and scientists are calling for tighter regulations on the availability of traditional Chinese medicines.

The Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) have issued a joint statement in which they express concerns at the recent recognition of traditional Chinese medicine in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards framework.

“Just because the World Health Organisation includes a chapter on Traditional Chinese Medicine in its new International Classification of Diseases, it is not automatically safe to use without robust evidence,” says Professor Dan Larhammar, president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and chair of the expert group of the FEAM.

“There have been examples where some traditional Chinese medicine has undergone thorough preclinical investigation and proven in rigorous clinical trials to contribute significant health benefit – e.g. artemisinin therapy for malaria,” says Professor Larhammar.

“There may be more leads to diagnosis and therapeutic benefit yet to be discovered, but this can in no way mean that other claims can be accepted uncritically.”

EASAC and FEAM urge European lawmakers to protect the health of European citizens. In the statement the two organisations ask for a revision of the existing European regulatory framework to make sure Traditional Chinese Medicine is held to the same standards of proof and evidence as conventional medicine.

“In the absence of solid scientific evidence, no medical product or procedure – be it Chinese, European or other - should be approvable, registrable or reimbursable”, says Professor George Griffin, president of FEAM from the department of Infectious Diseases and Medicine, St. George’s University of London

The statement makes it clear that it may not be the intention of the WHO to legitimise and encourage the use of traditional Chinese medicine without substantial evidence being available, but it fears that the inclusion in the new diagnostic coding will encourage proponents “with a significant financial interest” to push for market uptake.  Scientists warn that as a result, patients will be confused about which diagnosis is appropriate and which therapy is efficacious.

Increased patients’ interest could create additional pressure on public health services but they warn that “some traditional Chinese medicine can have serious side effects and interactions with other treatments”. Moreover, patients may be at risk that severe diseases are treated ineffectively and conventional medical procedures delayed.

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