Bangkok Post – Herbal marvel needs support


Now that Covid-19 has become endemic, the Public Health Ministry medical guidelines removing green chiretta, or fah talai jone, a traditional herb, from the list of essential medicines for Covid-19 patients has raised eyebrows among those advocating for alternative medicine.

The new guidelines came to the public’s attention after Parnthep Pourpongpan, dean of the College of Oriental Medicine at Rangsit University, voiced concerns over fah talai jone‘s delisting. This means state hospitals will use only imported anti-virus medicines like nirmatrelvir-ritonavir, favipiravir, remdesivir or molnupiravir which are relatively expensive.

Prof Parnthep pointed out that fah talai jone has been on the essential drug list since Nov 2023.

Some critics suspect the real motive of those who decided to dump the traditional herb from the list could be linked to the need to import costly Western drugs in its place.

Fah talai jone, which contains andrographis paniculata, a component that helps fight the virus, was a much sought-after medicinal herb when the country faced the Covid-19 crisis a few years ago.

By that time, the herb had gained a place in the public health circle. The health ministry recommended that those with Covid-19 symptoms take green chiretta as a stand-alone drug or with other herbs. It was quite phenomenal that green chiretta became a prescription drug in hospitals. With soaring demand, the market was occasionally short of it.

Now that Covid-19 has become endemic, with less severe effects, green chiretta’s favourable prices and accessibility have seen it remain a household drug option for anyone experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, and cough or just a plain cold.

The problem is that people in the modern medicine circle still have a bias against fah talai jone and other medicinal herbs. With such bias, they undervalue the herbs regardless of local wisdom that has been accumulated through generations.

At the national level, the Public Health Ministry, while listing green chiretta among its herbal champions, is paying nothing but lip service while it continues not to fund the international-standard research needed to make fah talai jone a global success.

In fact, last year, the Health Systems Research Institute (HSRI) released flawed research disputing claims green chiretta could treat lung inflammation. The study also warned of side effects from prolonged use. Such questionable research, which reflected terrible bias against the herb, was eventually withdrawn from the HSRI’s website.

Supaporn Pitiporn, a key person behind the success of Prachin Buri-based Abhaibhubejhr Hospital’s herbal production, noted that green chiretta played a prominent role in enabling the country to endure the Covid-19 crisis at a time when Western medicines were scarce.

Fah talai jone helped Thailand cope with Covid-19 as it is cheaper and more accessible than pricey Western alternatives. For instance, a full course of green chiretta costs only 80-120 baht against 2,000-3,000 baht for favipiravir. By removing the herb from the essential drug list, people will become less independent in terms of medicine.

The health minister should do a service to the country by relisting the herb and completing the long-overdue international-level research needed to bring this highly efficacious herb to global attention.

Editorial

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