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HIV victims benefit from TCM project

2014-12-03 08:55 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

Thirteen years ago, Li Guo, then 33 years old, was diagnosed with HIV, a virus he contracted as a result of rampant illegal blood collection in Henan province.

"I was so feeble at the time, I couldn't get to my feet," Li said, remembering his days in bed anticipating death. "I even had my coffin made."

Li now leads an ordinary life. When interviewed last week for World AIDS Day, which is observed internationally on Dec 1, Li was building a house with other villagers in his hometown. His real name is not being used.

"I can earn about 100 yuan ($16) every day at construction sites," Li said. "I am very confident in collecting enough to prepare for my son's marriage."

Li is one of many beneficiaries of a countrywide pilot project for HIV treatment using traditional Chinese medicine.

The project was launched by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance and the State Chinese Medicine Administration Bureau in 2004. It has provided free treatment using TCM in five provinces, including Henan.

The trial program has been extended to 19 provinces so far, with direct central finance investment reaching 530 million yuan, the bureau reported. More than 26,000 HIV/AIDS patients had received free treatment as of Sept 30.

The project includes using combination therapies consisting of TCM and antiviral drugs, as well as applying herbal extracts to directly suppress the viral load and help the human body recover its immunity, according to the bureau.

Many like Li have slowly regained their physical strength after years of TCM treatments and returned to normal life, said Li Fazhi, chief physician and team leader of Henan's expert group for HIV prevention and treatment.

Li Fazhi said he was not sure TCM could be applied for HIV relief when he first assumed his role as leader of the province's expert team. However, after experiments were conducted he found that HIV patients demonstrated many similar symptoms to those suffering conditions defined by TCM.

"Many patients were vomiting violently because of side effects caused by antiviral drugs, so we developed several TCM preparations to reduce the antiviral toxins and successfully made the patients feel comfortable," he said.

TCM is also affordable for patients, said Xia Zuchang, head of Henan's TCM association. The daily cost per person of the TCM therapeutic schedule is less than 10 yuan, Xia said.

The death rate of those with HIV in China has been declining steadily in the last decade, from 9.23 percent to 3.39 percent, below the international average, said Xu Liran, an official with the Henan provincial health department.

"We have observed steady recovery of the CD4+T lymphocytes (immune white cells) and inhibition of viral load in the patient's blood after they receive the combination therapy," Xu said.

China has vowed not to drop its guard against the virus, although its overall infection rate is low. Latest figures suggest 497,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in China at the end of October.

A total of 3,413 antiviral treatment institutions have been set up in 31 provincial-level regions, and more than 9,000 voluntary HIV testing stations have been set up nationwide.

Premier Li Keqiang visited Beijing's You An Hospital, which specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment, on Sunday ahead of World AIDS Day on Monday. He vowed the government would continue to increase its support for prevention and treatment.

He also said China will deepen cooperation and share its experience with the world in combating HIV.

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