by Xinhua writers Wang Ruoyao and Li Meng
KUNMING, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese medicine practitioners are trying to use the country's 2,000-year-old traditional medicine to treat AIDS in the hope of finding a way to help conquer the incurable epidemic that just entered its fourth decade.
Since 2004, China's State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has conducted a pilot program for the application of TCM to AIDS treatment that has benefited more than 14,000 HIV carriers and AIDS patients in 19 provinces by the end of last year, according to Wang Jian, deputy director of the TCM Center for AIDS Prevention and Treatment under China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.
Under the program, an HIV-infected person can voluntarily choose free TCM treatment if their counts of CD4, a type of cell in the immune system, reaches 350 per cubic millimeter or above. But when their CD4 count declines below this level, they will be given the Western antiretroviral therapy, the predominant treatment of AIDS in the world, alone or in combination with the TCM treatment.
While the antiretroviral therapy focuses on the suppression of the HIV virus, the TCM treatment puts more emphasis on the protection of the immune system, which is highly vulnerable to HIV, according to Ma Kejian, director of the research institute of traditional Chinese medicine in southwestern Yunnan province.
In addition, TCM treatment can also improve quality of life by significantly alleviating AIDS symptoms with nearly no side effects, Ma said. "Thus it can prolong patients' life and eventually reduce the death rate."
Yunnan registered 83,925 HIV carriers and AIDS patients as of the end of last year, the most of any Chinese province or region. By August, the province has provided 6,684 HIV-infected people with TCM treatment, accounting for half of the country's total.
A survey on over 3,000 HIV/AIDS patients receiving the TCM treatment in Yunnan shows that the therapy has succeeded in improving patients' immunity by raising their CD4 counts, as well as in relieving symptoms, such as persistent fever, weight loss and rash.
Chen Ying (pseudonym), who was found to have contracted HIV in 2008, is living a normal life, as every day she takes a cocktail of Chinese medical herbs in accordance with a prescription made by the Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kunming, Yunnan's capital city. The hospital has provided TCM treatment to more than 600 HIV/AIDS patients since 2005.
"I have been receiving TCM treatment for three years, and my early symptoms of bleeding gums, oral ulcers, rash and aching joints have nearly all gone," said the 49-year-old woman.
Given the huge potential the TCM treatment has shown, the central government will probably increase the number of participators of the pilot program to 30,000 nationwide from 2011 to 2015, doubling the quota for the past five years, according to Ma.