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Hero doctor fighting coronavirus with TCM

China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-01 07:35
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Zhang Boli (sitting, facing camera), head of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, examines a COVID-19 patient in a clinic in Wuhan, Hubei province, on March 18. [Photo by Zhu Xingxin/China Daily]

Over the past few months, Zhang Boli, 72, has made the world recognize the power of traditional Chinese medicine by leading an expert team to treat COVID-19 infections in Wuhan, China's front line in the battle against the novel coronavirus disease.

Zhang, head of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, arrived in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, on Jan 27, the third day of the Lunar New Year and the fifth day into the megacity's lockdown for epidemic control.

The member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering was among four people awarded the People's Hero, China's national medal and honorary title for their outstanding contribution to fighting the COVID-19 epidemic, on Aug 11.

"This honor was not only given to me as an individual. I share the glory because I am a member of the medical staff who have benefited from TCM," Zhang says.

Zhang spent his 72nd birthday in Wuhan on March 19, when no new infections and suspected cases of COVID-19 were reported there after a hard battle to curb the epidemic from spreading in the city with a population of over 10 million.

"Eliminating new infections in Wuhan is my best birthday gift," said Zhang after working around-the-clock to treat patients for over a month.

However, the city hardest hit by the epidemic in China was still struggling at the time. "Hospitals were overcrowded with potential risks of cross infections," Zhang says.

Zhang and over 300 other doctors formed a TCM medical team. They were stationed at a makeshift hospital in Wuhan's Jiangxia district using TCM decoctions with other treatments such as massage, acupuncture and physical exercises from tai chi and Baduanjin, a traditional aerobics form, to treat COVID-19 patients.

TCM showed obvious results in helping COVID-19 patients recuperate. None of the 564 patients with mild symptoms at the TCM-oriented temporary hospital saw their health condition deteriorate, Zhang says.

"We have therefore used TCM in 16 makeshift hospitals for isolation treatment of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, and since then the rate of patients developing severe conditions reduced substantially," he says.

With Zhang's pioneering practices, TCM treatment has been given to 90 percent of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, relieving symptoms, slowing the progression of the disease, reducing mortality and boosting recovery.

"TCM therapeutic solutions need such a battlefield to show the world its advantages and efficacy," says Zhang, who wrote the words "Cheer up, Zhang" on his protective suits.

Due to exhaustion and an irregular diet, the veteran expert started suffering from cholecystitis for which he had to undergo a gallbladder surgery on Feb 19 in Wuhan.

Officials of the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine urged Zhang to return home in Tianjin for recuperation, but he refused.

"The battle has just begun. How can I withdraw from the front at such a critical moment?" he said then.

He started working from his sickbed just hours after surgery. "This small table is my battlefield, since I cannot go to the wards to supervise the treatment," he said, pointing to the table beside his bed.

Despite his age, he has devoted himself to the development of modern TCM industry and its legislation, as he believes the system of medicine needs to be modernized.

"TCM is old, but not outdated. What hinders the development of the sector is the lack of technology. If we can combine the theory of TCM with modern technology, we will create innovative and outstanding achievements," says Zhang, who has become a pioneer of the endeavor.

In 2015, Zhang and his team won the first prize of the State Scientific and Technological Progress Award for his project on the development of patent Chinese medicine.

According to the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, China has shared TCM therapy, effective prescriptions and clinical experience for dealing with COVID-19 with more than 80 countries and regions.

Lianhua Qingwen capsule, a recommended patent TCM for the treatment of COVID-19, has got marketing approvals in more than 10 countries and regions.

"Chinese medics have relied on joint consultations between TCM and Western medicine experts in treating COVID-19. Regardless of national boundaries, I hope TCM can help more and more people worldwide," Zhang says.


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