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Traditional Chinese medicine must be regulated, EU Government warned

By Costanza Pearce

11 Nov 2019

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) must be regulated, health policy advisors have warned the European Government.

The Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) – which advise European policy-makers on healthcare and science – last week (7 November) issued a statement calling for TCM to be ‘held to the same standards’ as conventional medicine.

In June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a revision of its International Classification of Diseases, which will come into effect in January 2022, that includes a chapter on TCM.

FEAM and EASAC said the insertion of TCM, which includes practices such as acupuncture, tai chi, skin cupping and the ingestion of herbal products, could be ‘misconstrued’ as endorsement by the WHO.

In their statement, they urged European lawmakers to revise European regulatory frameworks to ensure TCM is ‘held to the same standards of proof and evidence as conventional medicine’.


Cannot be accepted ‘uncritically’


President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and chair of the expert group of the Academies, Professor Dan Larhammar, said the WHO’s inclusion of TCM in its framework does not mean it is ‘automatically safe to use without robust evidence’.

He added: ‘There have been examples where some TCM has undergone thorough preclinical investigation and proven in rigorous clinical trials to contribute significant health benefit – for example, artemisinin therapy for malaria.

‘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.’


‘Serious’ risks


TCM can cause ‘serious’ side effects or interactions with other treatments, past president of EASAC Professor Jos van der Meer said.

He added: ‘Patients may be at risk that severe diseases are treated ineffectively and conventional medical procedures delayed.’

FEAM and EASAC recommended that national regulations are reformed to ensure TCM treatments are labelled and advertised in the same way as conventional medicines.

The statement said: ‘There should be an accurate, clear, verifiable and simple description of the ingredients and their amounts present in the formulation.

‘Promotional claims for efficacy, safety and quality should not be made without demonstrable and reproducible evidence.’

They also recommended that lawmakers amend the European Union’s directive on traditional herbal medical products to make it more rigorous.


Stretched budgets


The statement added that increasing interest in TCM could stretch healthcare budgets further.

It said: ‘There is risk in misleading patients and doctors and in increasing pressures for reimbursement by public health systems at a time of limited resources.’

FEAM president Professor George Griffin said: ‘In the absence of solid scientific evidence, no medical product or procedure – be it Chinese, European or other – should be approvable, registrable or reimbursable.’

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