Battle with SARS

- the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine
by E C Wong

Original article 2003.04.21 First Update 2003.05.15 published in South China Morning Post SARS prevention ╣wĘż
The big picture
The battle with SARS is severely damaging our economy by shattering our peace of mind rather than killing a lot of us. The disastrous threats of SARS are

. no medication is a sure win to avoid death even for the youth and healthy
. the recovery time in hospital is very long
. it takes even longer to recover from the side effects of the current medications used

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners in Hong Kong have been serving its people since the early years. Due to historical reasons, TCM has not gained the proper attention from the government. Nevertheless, TCM did not go unnoticed, but instead continue to help us throughout the years. The reason could only be that TCM is effective and is able to assist where modern medicine fails.

With the impudicity of SARS in Hong Kong, it is now the time for TCM to formally assist Western Medicine to save lives together.

Misconception on TCM
Lots of misconceptions on TCM have been widely spread among our society. It is extremely important for us to clear up the major misconception on TCM before we set up a plan for TCM to assist.

From the beginning of the battle with SARS, there have been lots of special formulae and herbs that claimed to be effective in preventing or even curing SARS. It should be noted that the way these formulae and herbs are used is but a primitive way to use natural Chinese herbs for fighting sickness. It is absolutely NOT the way TCM be employed to prevent or cure sickness. The essence of TCM is not the natural Chinese herbs itself but rather the Differential Diagnostic Process, which is guided by the theory of TCM.

In the ever going battle between human and disease, TCM never put disease on the primacy. Instead TCM always concentrate on how a patient fights against the disease, and subsequent to construct the appropriate formula that will help the body to fight in a better and faster manner. TCM trusts the immune system of the human body. The Differential Diagnosis Process first accesses whether the immune system is fighting too aggressively or too passively, and then accesses whether the toxin is getting out of the body quickly enough. This process allows TCM to treat new disease we have never seen before as long as our immune system reacts, which it always does.

As a consequence of this Differential Diagnostic Process, it is possible that different formulae would be used for patients with the same kind of sickness. On the other hand, the same formula may be used for different patients with different kind of sickness. Moreover, different formulae may be used for the same patient at different stages. It would be good for everyone if a single formula or herb could cure all SARS patients. But the truth is that it will never be the case. There is no point in trying out experiments on whether a particular herbs or formula can kill the virus in laboratories because the nature of the herbs are dedicated to help the body to kill the virus instead of killing the virus directly! Numerous experiments have been done on this subject in Mainland China during the past 30 years.

Hence, the only way to use TCM to help SARS patients is to have TCM practitioners diagnose each patient individually and prescribe the appropriate formula.

The procedure to assist
In order for TCM to assist effectively, we suggest the following procedure:
. to concentrate on helping the medics, as they would be able to go back to work and not being infected again
. to promote for early recovery of patients who are in stabilized conditions, thereby, to increase the number of available hospital beds for new patients
. to assist new patients who are found not responding to current medications
. to investigate patients in the ICU for possible help with TCM

Understanding of SARS
The government did not release enough information about SARS patients for us to do a proper Differential Diagnosis. However, by analyzing the current information, we suspect the virus causes the body to fight in a state called "external coldness trapped the internal hotness" in the "lung system". Some patients seem to have a different set of symptoms, which mainly relates to diarrhea. We suspect that it is only a matter of the toxin transferring to the large intestine. Theoretically for TCM, the large intestine still belongs to the "lung system", but of course a different formula should be prescribed for these patients.

The immune system also reacts differently during different seasons and at different places. Spring is the time when all living things both human and virus grows and becomes more active. At the same time, our immune system will become more active in getting rid of the toxin trapped inside the body, while the virus in the external environment will be more active in attacking our body as well. Depending on the activeness of the body, we could divide the patients during springtime into different categories with different corresponding formula. For example, a patient could have both external virus attack and internal toxin cleanup with an immune system fighting too aggressively. We expect the SARS patients will fall into one of these categories. The weather in Hong Kong is different from Guangzhou even though we are geographically very close to each other. The dampness in Hong Kong is higher and so do the condition of the people living here. Thus, the situation in Hong Kong with more SARS patients found with the diarrhea symptom is of no big surprise to TCM practitioners.

We strongly urge the HKSAR government to take immediate action before more lives are lost and our economy being further damaged. We strongly believe that Traditional Chinese Medicine could assist in the battle with SARS. This is the only way out to the current chaotic situation.

First Update 2003.05.15
2003.05.15 Update
TCM experts in SARS
We are glad to see that the government has finally listened and invited TCM experts from Guangzhou to start a TCM program for SARS patients in Hong Kong. However, we reckon that there still exists a big flaw in the current program. As far as we know, the government has no intention to invite any of the 7000 registered/listed TCM practitioners in Hong Kong to participate in the program. We strongly believe that most of the local TCM practitioners are eager to have the chance to help the SARS patients. Moreover, the experiences of the SARS experts are invaluable but the government has not arranged for them to share their experiences with the TCM practitioners in Hong Kong. The two experts cannot stay in Hong Kong forever. It is extremely important that their experiences are passed onto the local TCM practitioners, who may smoothly take up the responsibilities of monitoring the health of the SARS patients in the long run.

The Hospital Authority explained that they need to experiment on a small scale to investigate and evaluate the effect of TCM on SARS patients. However, we disagree with this viewpoint. Firstly, as explained in our first article, TCM concentrates on the reaction of the patient instead of the virus itself; hence, different formulae should be used for different SARS patient. Secondly, TCM is a legalized medical treatment in Hong Kong. To have TCM "tested out" before we could use it on a larger scale for SARS patients is extremely contradictory! Experiment on a small scale is a waste of time! People are dying and we have lost 3 medics already. SARS patients have been treated with Western medicine for the past two months and it is perhaps the right time for TCM to try our best.

We believe a better arrangement can be made to assist the SARS patients through treatment by the local TCM practitioners coupled with help and advice from the experts in Guangzhou. It has never been a more appropriate timing for the government to start a well-planned and long-term TCM program to have TCM practitioners working together with western doctors in public hospitals.

The number of newly infected SARS patients has been decreasing for some days already, but the WHO is still reluctant to put Hong Kong off the black list. It is because we still have hundreds, instead of just tens of SARS patients in our hospitals. TCM can help these patients to recover faster. It is now the time to setup long term TCM programs in the public hospital system.

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