COVID-19: China promotes bear bile as treatment for disease traced to wildlife
Wildlife advocates have condemned Chinese officials for recommending the use of a medication derived from bile taken from caged bears to treat people with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
In January, Chinese health officials traced the coronavirus outbreak to wildlife sold at food markets in the city of Wuhan.
However, several media reports say the country’s National Health Commission has included an injectable drug containing bear bile, a traditional Chinese medication, among its list of treatments.
The NHC’s recommendation has appalled wildlife activists, with some calling it “ironic.”
“Wild animals being used as a source for traditional medicine is one of the cruellest abuses in the world, having the potential for severe public health consequences,” Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, of World Animal Protection, told the Daily Mail in a statement.
“It’s tragic and ironic that the recommended treatment for severe cases of COVID-19 is suggesting the consumption of a wild animal product in response to a pandemic born from handling wild animals.”
The drug, Tan Re Qing, was listed among the treatments for severe and critical COVID-19 cases in a plan published three weeks ago and circulated by Chinese state media, the Independent reported.
The bile, secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, is “milked” from the Asian black bear, also known as moon bear, kept in farms in China and Vietnam.
It contains high levels of an acid, which has been clinically proven in studies to help treat some forms of liver disease.
According to Animals Asia, “Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffering from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that not only contaminate their bile but ultimately kill them.”
Tan Re Qing has also been used by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners as a drug to treat bronchitis and upper respiratory infections, but there is no scientific evidence that bear bile is an effective treatment for coronavirus.
With the spread of the virus last month, the Chinese government banned the eating and transport for eating of wild animals. The ban does not cover the use of wildlife products in Chinese medicine.
“Restricting the eating of wildlife while promoting medicines containing wildlife parts exemplifies the mixed messages being sent by Chinese authorities on wildlife trade,” Aron White, a China specialist with the Environmental Investigation Agency, told the Independent.
“Aside from the irony of promoting a wildlife product for treatment of a disease which the scientific community has overwhelmingly concluded originated in wildlife, the continued promotion of the use of threatened wildlife in medicine is hugely irresponsible in an era of unprecedented biodiversity loss, including illegal and unsustainable trade.”
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