Xiao Dong (pseudonym) is in charge of an NGO offering help to Chinese HIV/AIDS patients. He said that at the current stage, TCM and Western medicine have yet to systematically combine together in treating HIV/AIDS. "They fight the enemy separately."
Xiao doesn't suggest any patients totally depend on only TCM. He warned that some self-proclaimed "miracle TCM doctors" are mere swindlers who may put their patients' lives in even greater danger.
In 2017, in Luoyang, Central China's Henan Province, a former health official at the local center for diseases prevention and control (CDC) once touted his hand-made TCM to his HIV/AIDS patients. He forced them to buy his medicines while refusing them Western medicines, which could have been obtained for free from the CDC, thepaper.cn reported.
Several of his patients eventually came down with life-threatening illnesses. Some contacted Xiao Dong's NGO in attempt to expose the official's misdeeds. The official was later demoted.
In Zunyi, Southwest China's Guizhou Province, TCM doctor Li Guoqing claimed that he had successfully developed an herbal medicine that could cure AIDS, saying that 99.9 percent of his patients had restored their health after taking the medicine.
Local health authorities investigating the claims dismissed Li's findings, but some wealthy investors reportedly continued cooperation with Li.
A Baidu search for "TCM + AIDS treatment" pulls up numerous discussion forums from patients asking if it's really beneficial or just quackery being promoted by unscrupulous mountebanks. Liu Baolu, a TCM doctor based in Gansu Province, is a name that pops up in many such online discussions.
Liu previously claimed that he had successfully cured HIV/AIDS. The former director of Gansu's official health department, Liu Weizhong, even posted Liu's cell phone number on his social media account (with over 100,000 followers) telling patients to visit Liu for "free treatment."
Liu Weizhong later told media that the reason he was promoting Liu Baolu was because he himself had personally witnessed some patients show signs of recovery from using Liu Baolu's treatment. In an interview with Guangzhou Daily, Liu Baolu claimed his TCM method was useful, but refused to divulge to reporters the ingredients of his prescription, calling it "a secret."
The reporter discovered that several of Liu's patients had returned to HARRT treatment after seeing no results from Liu's TCM.
Fang Zhouzi, an expert in chemical biology and an anti-fraud campaigner, once wrote that even if an HIV/AIDS patient shows good signs after receiving TCM, it's very likely due to their improved psychological status.
Wang told the Global Times that, thus far, no TCM alone can cure AIDS, but stressed that it serves as beneficial supplementary treatment to HARRT.
Xiao Dong is pessimistic about the future of TCM and Western medicine combination treatments.
While the Chinese government advocates such combinations, Xiao worries that some self-serving scientists and researchers are more interested in obtaining lucrative grants or high honors rather than focusing on benefiting the patient.
Wang said that the public's mistrust and lack of understanding of TCM also hinders its development.
"In the anti-virus aspect, TCM can't compete with Western medicine, but it is effective in other aspects, including alleviating clinical symptoms and side effects," he noted.
According to Wang, due to the complexity of AIDS treatment along with its low economic returns, there is a high turnover among TCM doctors specializing in AIDS, many of whom drop out after not seeing any profit or finding themselves overwhelmed. At the county level, the quality of TCM doctors is comparatively lower than in urban centers.
Moreover, the examination and approval process for TCM in treating AIDS is extremely difficult. In just the past decade, 20 medical companies invested large sums of money to develop such medications, but most failed to receive official approval for their medicines.
Currently, only one single TCM, named Tangcaopian, has been officially approved for treating HIV/AIDS. "This is far from enough to meet our clinical and research requirements," Wang said.
Despite such obstacles, Wang is optimistic about the future of TCM in HIV/AIDS treatment and noted that some regions are making a bigger effort to advocate combination treatments using TCM and Western medicine together.
In Yunnan Province, for example, health authorities recently held seminars for TCM doctors and encouraged them to work with Western medicine doctors at local hospitals in order to combat AIDS.