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Should Traditional Chinese Medicine be Used to Treat HIV?

Controversy: Should Traditional Chinese Medicine be Used to Treat HIV?

In China, the use of traditional medicine to treat HIV remains popular despite warnings from the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization has issued a warning in response to a five-year action plan for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment recently released by the Chinese government. The WHO says they currently “only recommend antiretroviral therapies for the treatment for HIV based on systematic reviews of available evidence. Traditional and complementary medicines may have an adjunct role in improving overall patient well-being."

“Western medicine kills and suppresses the virus. TCM improves the immune system, the patient’s quality of life and prolongs lifespan,” says Dr. Xu Liran, a doctor at TCM hospital in Zhengzhou, a major research center for TCM treatment of HIV. Dr. Xu says TCMs are most effective when used together with western medicines, but there are cases when they are prescribed alone. Critics argue that there has not been enough research done on using TCM as a sole treatment for HIV, and it is dangerous to have patients forego antiretroviral therapy, especially when it has been so successful in controlling the virus.

Though many experts feel TCM can be a good supplemental treatment to antiretroviral therapy, to improve things like emotional well-being and immune system health, there is still debate there as well. Liu Shi, who leads a Beijing-based AIDS support network and is HIV positive, refuses to use TCM in addition to western drugs, and wouldn’t recommend them to those in his support network. “Why should I put more pressure on my body with a new medicine? If it's just used as a supplement to improve immunity I don't recommend it,” says Liu Shi.

Despite the WHO’s warning, the use of TCM continues to be a popular form of treatment for the over half-million people living with HIV in the country.


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