Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has helped 17,000 HIV carriers and AIDS patients in China since 2004, experts said on Wednesday.
"TCM performs as an effective supplement to Western therapy in terms of alleviating patients' symptoms, including fever, cough, asthenia and diarrhea, thus making life easier for them," said Wang Jian, deputy director of the TCM Center for AIDS Prevention and Treatment with the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
China started to give AIDS patients free TCM therapy in a pilot project carried out among 2,300 patients in five provinces in 2004.
By last October, the projects had expanded to 19 provinces.
The TCM therapy is usually applied to carriers whose immune system is not too weak to receive the Western medication that is largely known as antiretroviral therapy; or to patients who suffer side effects from the therapies.
A biological indicator for this is CD4, a type of cell in the immune system. When a carrier's CD4 count reaches 350 per cubic millimeter or below they will need western treatment.
"According to our clinical research on around 8,900 patients over the past four years, their CD4 decreased by 12 per cubic millimeter each year after taking TCM therapy, while the control group that did not take any medicine lost 30 to 50 cells a year," Wang said.
"However, the combination of Western therapy and TCM is even better, with the patients' CD4 increasing by 15 each year."
"Although TCM therapy cannot cure the disease completely, it can surely help the patients in some way," said Amir Hooman Kazemi, a clinical PhD in Chinese Medicine from Iran, currently based in Beijing.
In 2010, Kazemi met two non-Chinese AIDS patients who received TCM therapy in China. Kazemi, however, preferred not to reveal their nationality and age to China Daily.
"One of them used TCM therapy for six months and felt his immunity was improved. The other had caught some skin and pulmonary diseases, but later the symptoms were not so severe," Kazemi said. "It was from that time that I started to believe in the effectiveness of TCM therapy in curing AIDS."
"As a TCM doctor, I have seen a good number of people visiting China to try TCM therapy to treat other chronic diseases. I have to say TCM works well in curing chronic diseases, but I believe there is still space for improvement, especially in terms of introducing the drug's working mechanism to Western doctors."
According to Wang Jian, Chinese herbal medicines work differently from Western anti-HIV drugs. The Western therapies target blocking viral replication, but TCM therapy works towards increasing people's immunity.
Wang said that Chinese government has allocated 220 million yuan ($34.49 million) since 2004 for TCM therapy research, and further efforts will be made to develop better treatment based on a combination of TCM and Western medicine.
By the end of 2011, China is estimated to have 780,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, including 154,000 patients with full-blown afflictions, official statistics show.