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The Food and Drug Administration approved last August a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) called Lianhua Qingwen, offering a ray of hope in battling the dreaded Covid-19 virus, at least for patients with mild or moderate symptoms.
The FDA nod makes Lianhua Qingwen the first TCM to be registered as a traditionally used herbal product in the Philippines. Lianhua Qingwen, widely used in China as part of its standard Covid-19 treatments, was officially launched in the local market through the partnership between Yiling Pharmaceutical and its exclusive distributor in the Philippines, Philippine Archipelago International Trading Corp.
Dr. Philip Tan-Gatue, Medical Director of Philippine Archipelago International Trading Corp. and faculty member of the UP College of Medicine, said TCM has been able to treat a lot of everyday problems. “There’s a saying from friends in China that if you get hit by a car, go to the emergency room of a Western medicine hospital, but for muscle aches, cramps or sniffles, go to a Chinese doctor,” he said.
What is Lianhua Qingwen?
The Lianhua Qingwen capsule has been part of China’s standard therapy for Covid-19 patients with mild and moderate symptoms.
The results of a prospective, randomized, controlled, and multi-center clinical study on treating Covid-19 with Lianhua Qingwen capsules, which Chinese academicians Zhong Nanshan, Li Lanjuan, and Zhang Boli and other experts worked on together with over 20 hospitals, were published in Phytomedicine, the journal with a high impact factor in the field of international herbal medicine.
The study determined that in terms of clinical use, Lianhua Qingwen proved to be both safe and effective in treating Covid-19 in conjunction with conventional therapy as it could significantly relieve clinical symptoms of Covid-19 such as fever, debilitation, and cough, greatly improve pulmonary lesions, shorten the duration of symptoms, and increase the clinical recovery rate.
The challenge for TCM in the country
Olivia Limpe-Aw, president of Philippine Archipelago International Trading Corp., said there were many challenges in bringing the drug to the country. Aside from the usual documentation procedures for registration was that it happened during a pandemic. However, the biggest hurdle they had to overcome was that, aside from the product being the first of its kind, the orientation of the country is still very much geared towards Western medicine.
“That’s why we got Dr. Philip Tan-Gatue, who understands both TCM and Western medicine so we can better explain it to a market that has practically zero knowledge about TCM,” Limpe-Aw noted.
“It was a lot of hard work, patience and learnings to be able to comply, but it was also a great feeling to be able to achieve something that can help the country.”
Breaking the TCM stigma
Part of the skepticism about TCM, says Dr. Tan-Gatue, is that many do not know whom to believe because there are a lot of claims being made about TCM. “I think the stigma can be broken through adequate information as long as we see that it works and is properly documented.”
TCM, says Dr. Tan-Gatue, is a complete medical system, has its own theories on health, pathology, diagnostics and treatment, with various modalities such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, manual manipulation, breathing exercises. Chinese herbal formulas are where herbs are seldom used alone. Mostly, they are combined to make a more potent formula and where every herb has a role.
“That is the beauty of Chinese herbs and it has been extensively studied over the years on the molecular, pharmacologic and clinical level. TCM and Western medicine can complement each other. Knowing the mechanisms of ancient formulas enable us to adapt them for modern use and for new diseases. Lianhua Qingwen capsules were formulated from famous prescriptions from three different eras of Chinese history so the track record of success is there and was studied also on the molecular, pharmacologic and clinical levels where it showed potential in the treatment of mild to moderate symptoms of Covid 19.”
The future of TCM in the Philippines
Dr. Tan-Gatue said that traditional Chinese medicine is thriving because it works, that it’s not set in its ways. In TCM, there’s always adaptation, evolution and new medicinal substances discovered from other countries.
Perhaps another reason why it’s thriving, according to Limpe-Aw, is due to its price point, like for Lianhua Qingwen where the suggested retail price is at P288 per box and if the recommended dosage is seven days and around three to four boxes are needed, that’s practically less than P1,000 and it works. “It’s really affordable and it’s also one reason why TCM is thriving, aside from the fact they continuously innovate, trying to find new ingredients, come up with better and more effective medicines that people can afford.”
Limpe-Aw, however, cautioned the public against buying Lianhua Qingwen from dubious sources. The drug will be available at South Star Drug, soon at Watsons and Mercury Drug, but only in branches with S3 license since the drug is still classified as a dangerous drug by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and should be prescribed by a doctor with an S3 license.