Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Perhaps Trump was half right about the WHO

By Malcolm Potts

Over half a century I have had many positive interactions with the WHO. I have a particular admiration for WHO staff who have been first responders during Ebola epidemics. The WHO has earned global respect and influence because of its record of science-based polices. When a mistake is made then the results are especially catastrophic.

In response to lobbying by the Chinese government, the WHO has endorsed “Traditional Chinese Medicine”(TCM) as a valid part of medical practice. In doing so they promote the very practices that gave the world the trillion dollar Covid 19 pandemic. In addition, they are authenticating a style of “medicine” with zero curative value. TCM asserts that tiger claws cure insomnia, ground tiger bones cure arthritis and headaches and tiger brains cure laziness and pimples. The crazy list goes on and on. No one benefits, but each nonsense brings a majestic animal closer to extinction. The largest TCM company, Tongrentang, was using 7,000 pounds of tiger bones/ year in the 1990s, equivalent to 300 animals. Only about 3,000 tigers remain alive in the wild. Some tigers are kept in cages in appallingly cruel conditions, some even in the USA, to supply the TCM.

Bear bile is another TCM. Ursodeoxycholic acid, a component of bile, has been used as a possible therapy in Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, and other conditions. Happily, a number of analogues have been synthesized. Nevertheless, in China and elsewhere bears are kept in cages so small they allow little movement. A hole is then made in the abdomen and a metal catheter is insert in the bear’s bile duct. Inevitably, the whole thing becomes infected. There is as much puss as bile, but it is the bile that sells for “120 / 100 ml. All the WHO endorsement does is to promote the cruel and unnecessary collection of bile from animals subjected to continuous, excruciating pain.

At the time of writing, Covid 19 has infected over 14 million pole (three times the population of New Zealand) and killed 600,000. This suffering could all have been avoided by one simple step: outlaw the currently legal trade in wildlife and restrain and punish the illegal trade. The 1993 SARS epidemic was ended by such legislation. Then the Chinese rescinded the law and gave the world Covid 19.

Covid 19 is found in bats and in pangolins. It is not clear exactly how the virus jumped to humans, but it was probably in TCM shops, or in “live restaurants” in China, Vietnam, or neighboring countries, where exotic animals are kept alive in cages until just before they are eaten.

Pangolins are nocturnal ant eaters, and the only mammal with scales. One million pangolins were export from Africa to Asia in the 1990s, together with tons of scales, which are prized in TCM. I’ve eaten roast pangolin - scales and all. It was not a deliberate choice. I was visiting Chad and my hosts invited me to lunch, adding would I like the French or African restaurant. Trying to be polite I choose the latter. The other choice in this particular restaurant was fricassee of civet cat.

The 2003 SAAS epidemic in China also seems to have begun in live restaurant and TCM shops. The government closed them but then relented – leaving the door wide open to Covid 19. No doubt Chinese economic interests will use the WHO resolution to abort any effort by the government to set science based-policies designed to forestall next zoonotic global disease killing millions.

The good news is that, once again, California leads the world. Our state senators voted overwhelmingly to advance the "Wildlife Trafficking and Trade Act" (S.B. 1175).a bill to protect threatened wildlife, within the state and globally. It is the surest way to reduce the risk of anther pandemic that infects millions and throws millions more out of work. Please ask your representative to support this legislation which has the potential to save your life, or the life of loved ones, by preventing the next zoonotic pandemic before it has a chance to start.

Meanwhile, I cannot think of a more lethal, inappropriate and destructive policy statement in the 70 year history of the WHO, than the endorsement of TCM. Trump’s wish to defund the WHO is merely one more expression of his ignorance but in the case of endorsing TCM he will be half right.