Less than a month after China mandated a ban on wildlife consumption due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak that originated in a Wuhan wet market that sold wild and exotic animals, the Chinese government has recommended the use of Tan Qe Ring, an injection containing bear bile to cure severe coronavirus cases.
China’s National Health Commission published a list of recommended list of coronavirus treatments that can be used to treat coronavirus patients. Wildlife advocates said this move is a complete contradictory of the governing body’s call to shut down wildlife consumption, but promotes the trade in animal parts.
Asiatic black bears and brown bear bile have been used in traditional Chinese medicine since the early eighth century. It is secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners typically use it for bronchitis and upper respiratory infections.
The bear bile contain high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, which is clinically proven to treat liver diseases and help dissolve gallstones. Also known as ursodiol, it has been available as a synthetic drug worldwide.
Clifford Steer, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, studied the medical benefits of urdiol and found no evidence that it can be an effective treatment for coronavirus. However, he said the ursodeoxycholic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties has the ability to keep cells alive and may alleviate symptoms of COVID-19 as it calms the immune response.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is still no cure for COVID-19. Pain relievers and cough syrups are used to treat its symptoms. Though the use of bear bile for medicine in China is legal, bile from wild bears is widely banned, as well as importing it to other countries.
National Geographic reported that Aron White, wildlife campaigner for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – a non-profit organization based in London, England that exposes wildlife crimes, first learned about China’s National Health Commission’s recommendations of using bear bile from social media posts by illegal traders.
“We were witnessing how this government recommendation was being coopted by the traffickers to advertise their illegal products as a treatment,” White told NatGeo.
The bear biles made in China are commonly imported to other countries that practice traditional medicine, like Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea. Even though Asiatic black bears are protected from international commercial trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, they are still commonly farmed for their biles.
Wildlife farms have common diseases, according to Animals Asia, which can threaten human health. Bile from sick animals can be contaminated with blood, feces, pus, urine and bacteria that can make humans sick, or die.
“Whether [wildlife is] being consumed as meat or as medicine, the risks are still there in how the animals are being slaughtered, gathered and stored, processed, consumed,” said White.
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