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Traditional medicines used to fight AIDS
By Guo Nei (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-04 08:42

Central China's Henan Province, which reported the biggest number of HIV/AIDS patients in China, will kick off a new campaign next month to fight against these afflictions with traditional Chinese medicines.

Many medical experts have concluded through decades of research that traditional Chinese medicines have few side effects and are much cheaper than most commonly used Western medicines, as well as being effective in dealing with certain symptoms of AIDS and HIV.

Efforts will be targetted mainly at the vast countryside of the province, where most of Henan's HIV/AIDS carriers dwell.

Pilot hospitals will be selected, along with the establishment of special teams of professionals, to explore the potential of treating AIDS and HIV with traditional Chinese medicines, according to a report from China Central Television (CCTV).

The number of HIV/AIDS carriers in Henan has risen to 35,000 over the past nine years, with the first case in the province being confirmed in March 1995. Most of the patients were infected through blood transfusions at illegal blood donor stations.

As most of these people are farmers and rural citizens with little money, the current popular treatment of the disease with a combination of chemical and biological medicines, known as cocktail therapies, is just not affordable for most.

Patent expiration for major AIDS-treatment medicines, such as Zidovudine, Stavudine, Didanosine and Zalcitabine, has lowered the yearly treatment costs for an AIDS patient in China from at least 40,000 yuan (US$4,831) before 2002 to less than 20,000 yuan (US$2,415) at present. But it is still too overwhelming for average Chinese AIDS and HIV patients, most of whom have lost their sources of income.

The Ministry of Health estimated there were 840,000 HIV/AIDS patients in China in 2003.

Experts and industry insiders believe the use of traditional Chinese medicines can help further reduce AIDS treatment costs, expecting the cost of combining traditional Chinese medicines with chemical drugs to treat HIV/AIDS patients to range between 4,000 yuan (US$483) and 6,000 yuan (US$725) per year.

There is great potential for traditional Chinese medicines to help treat HIV/AIDS, said Lin Ruichao, director of the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Beijing-based National Institute for the Control of Pharmaceuticals and Biological Products.

However, the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) is very cautious in handling out related licences, since the curative effects, as well as possible side effects, of traditional Chinese medicines are still uncertain in this regard.

Only one traditional Chinese medicine, named Tangcaopian, has won a SFDA licence, and that was inked only last month.

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