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COVID-19 battle puts TCM in the spotlight

Hong Kong's fifth and most serious wave of the COVID-19 outbreak has thrust traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to the forefront in the city's fight to contain the pandemic.

Chinese medicine practitioners are now set to play a pivotal role in the special administrative region's public healthcare system in future.

A seven-member team of TCM experts from the Chinese mainland arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday to help the city bring the pandemic under control. The team will cooperate with the SAR government in using TCM to treat COVID-19 patients and prevent severe cases.

Last week, TCM practitioners in Hong Kong started a medical tele-consultation service, subsidized by the Chinese Medicine Development Fund. They will provide free professional tele-consultation and delivery services concerning Chinese medicine for two months to COVID patients being quarantined at home. Up to 20,000 patients are expected to benefit, with 1,000 patients to be served daily. The services could be expanded if the public's response is satisfactory.

"The fifth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak offers an opportunity for TCM practitioners to join in the anti-pandemic fight," said Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Industry Association Executive President Kenlay Wong Kwong-fai. "We expect to see deeper collaboration between TCM practitioners and doctors in the public health system. TCM practitioners will play a more important role in future," he told China Daily.

Wong is happy that the development of Chinese medicine is gradually being recognized by the SAR government and the public. Hong Kong's first TCM hospital and the Government Chinese Medicines Testing Institute will begin operation in the next few years.

"If the government recognizes the qualifications of TCM practitioners, we think their participation will help to reduce the pressures on and deficiencies in the local medical care system," said Chan Wing-kwong, president of the Hong Kong Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioners Association.

The pandemic has also highlighted social recognition of TCM in preventing and treating COVID-19 symptoms.

The SAR government will start distributing anti-pandemic kits to 3 million households over a week starting early April. Apart from 20 KN95 masks, 20 rapid antigen test agents, anti-pandemic information kits and greeting cards, there will also be two TCM capsules. The government has already distributed about 1.2 million Chinese medicine sachets donated by the mainland.

Among various Chinese medicines, Huoxiang Zhengqi Pian, Jinhua Qinggan Keli and Lianhua Qingwen are recognized for treating COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. It has been proven that Lianhua Qingwen can protect those exposed to COVID-19 by reducing the effects of symptoms like fever, fatigue and coughing. It can also shorten the duration of symptoms and treatment, and speed up clinical cure, according to a research article by mainland medical science researchers at the Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University and the Hebei Provincial Corps Hospital of the Chinese People's Armed Police Force.

"As the government has distributed TCM in anti-pandemic kits, it has raised public awareness of the efficacy of TCM in preventing and treating COVID-19 symptoms. The efficacy of Lianhua Qingwen in dealing with COVID-19 symptoms has been highly recognized in the community," Wong said.

"Since the fifth wave of the pandemic erupted in the past two months, TCM can be used to prevent and treat mild symptoms among COVID-19 patients," said Chan.

The outbreak has hastened the development of medical technology in Hong Kong, particularly in medical tele-consultation.

Manson Technology Development Company - a Hong Kong Science Park-incubated technology startup specializing in online medical consultation booking services - is using the Doctor Q platform to launch tele-medical consultation services for COVID-19 patients this month.

The Doctor Q platform, manned by more than 100 doctors, TCM practitioners, dietitians, optometrists and psychological therapists, offers 3,000 free consultation quotas for registered COVID patients. Manson Technology expects the number of medical professionals on the platform to exceed 300 by the end of this year.

After the 3,000 free quotas are used up, registered COVID patients need not have to pay for the registration fee, while the consultation fee and expenses on drugs will be determined by doctors and therapists.

The raging pandemic has thrown the supply of and demand for medical resources in Hong Kong off track. As residents avoid going out, tele-consultation services are meeting the public's need for medical consultation.

"We have invested millions of dollars in setting up the Doctor Q platform. As the pandemic has transformed the pattern of medical consultation, we believe the platform will be profitable in the long term. We expect it to break even within a year," Misty Man, chief executive officer of Manson Technology, told China Daily.

"With an efficient transportation network, it was easy for Hong Kong residents to seek face-to-face medical consultation before the pandemic. Originally, we intended to use Doctor Q as a cross-border online medical consultation platform," Man said.

Amid the public-health crisis, Manson Technology relied on the technology, logistics and manpower resources of Tencent Cloud, Hong Kong Volunteers Against Coronavirus, the Hong Kong Association for the Advancement of Science Technology, and the Hong Kong GBA Inno-tech Epidemic Prevention Alliance to develop the Doctor Q platform over two weeks.

The platform also has an online booking system that allows patients to have medical consultation faster. The technology startup plans to launch cross-border medical consultation services and an ecosystem for insurance services. It will combine information about various medical specialty and therapist services on the platform's webpage.

"We are bullish about the business prospects of the medical technology industry in Hong Kong. As the population ages, there will be tremendous demand for medical technology applications," said Man.

"Medical equipment powered by the Internet of Things will be the future for the medical platform, while online medical services will be expanded to cover health monitoring. Combining online and offline services would mean upgrading the development of the medical technology industry," Man added.


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