Following a high-level policy dialogue between the Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) and China’s National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (NATCM) in Geneva on 17 January 2022, WHO decided to convene a meeting of experts to evaluate the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the treatment of COVID-19. The subsequent Expert Meeting on Evaluation of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of COVID-19 was held virtually from 28 February to 02 March 2022.
The 21 international experts from the six WHO regions included members of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel, representatives of WHO collaborating centers, members of the WHO International Regulatory Cooperation for Herbal Medicines (IRCH), and members of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Technical staff from WHO headquarters, regional and country offices also attended the meeting.
This meeting report describes the discussion among the experts and the consensus reached reviewing three reports on traditional Chinese medicine and COVID-19 provided by national expert groups in China and 12 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which had been registered and published as well.
Key findings of the Expert Meeting
The experts agreed that the evidence evaluation reports applied appropriate and rigorous methodology to determine the current level of clinical evidence and safety of the studied TCM interventions used in the trials.
The experts acknowledged that the included trials involved heterogeneous settings and various types of patients and outcome measures.
In addition to routine treatment, the results from the studied TCMs suggest that, on the basis of clinically relevant outcome measures, the studied TCMs are beneficial in the treatment of COVID-19, particularly in mild-to-moderate cases.
There are promising data to suggest that TCM is beneficial in reducing the risk of progression from mild-to-moderate cases to severe COVID-19.
The evidence on the benefit of TCM injection for severe cases is limited, and further evaluation is critically needed. • For mild-to-moderate cases, there is encouraging evidence that the studied TCMs, when administered as add-on interventions to conventional treatment, may shorten the time for viral clearance, resolution of clinical symptoms and length of hospital stay when compared to conventional treatment alone.
The results of the TCM trials do not substantiate the use of any specific plant species outside the general TCM framework in the context of COVID-19.
The studied TCM interventions given in addition to conventional treatment were well tolerated and have a safety profile that is comparable to that of conventional treatment alone.
There is encouraging evidence that early application of TCM may result in better clinical outcomes for patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19.
Despite inherent limitations, the results from the selected RCTs justify further investments in clinical trials to evaluate the potential benefits of selected TCMs in the management of COVID-19.