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Zhang Boli, hero doctor fighting coronavirus with TCM

(Xinhua)    10:33, September 09, 2020

TIANJIN, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Over the past few months, Zhang Boli, 72, has made the world recognize the power of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) by leading an expert team to treat COVID-19 infections in Wuhan, once the Chinese city hardest-hit by the novel coronavirus disease.

On Tuesday, he attended a meeting held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, at which Chinese President Xi Jinping presented medals to recipients of the Medal of the Republic and the national honorary title for their outstanding contributions to the country's fight against the COVID-19 epidemic.

At the meeting, the national honorary title, "the People's Hero," was conferred on Zhang Boli, Zhang Dingyu, head of Wuhan's designated coronavirus-treating Jinyintan Hospital, and Chen Wei, a military medical scientist.

Zhang, head of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, arrived in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province on Jan. 27, the third day of China's Lunar New Year and the fifth day into the megacity's lockdown for epidemic control.

He has been a senior TCM expert who presided over the research of the COVID-19 treatment scheme combining TCM and Western medicine.

"This honor was not only given to me as an individual. I share the glory because I am a member of the medical staff who have benefited from TCM," Zhang said.

FIGHTING ON THE FRONTLINE

Zhang spent his 72nd birthday in Wuhan on March 19, when no new infections and suspected cases of COVID-19 were reported there after a hard battle to curb the epidemic from spreading in the city with a population of over 10 million.

"Eliminating new infections in Wuhan is my best birthday gift," said Zhang after working around-the-clock to treat patients for over a month.

However, the city was still struggling at the time. "Hospitals were overcrowded with potential risks of cross infections," Zhang said.

Zhang and over 300 other doctors formed a TCM medical team. They were stationed at a makeshift hospital in Wuhan's Jiangxia district using TCM decoctions with other treatments such as massage, acupuncture and physical exercises from Tai Chi and Baduanjin, a traditional aerobics form, to treat COVID-19 patients.

TCM showed obvious results in helping COVID-19 patients recuperate. None of the 564 patients with mild symptoms at the TCM-oriented temporary hospital saw their health condition deteriorate, Zhang said.

"We have therefore used TCM in 16 makeshift hospitals for isolation treatment of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, and since then the rate of patients developing severe conditions reduced substantially," he said.

With Zhang's pioneering practices, TCM treatment has been given to 90 percent of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, relieving symptoms, slowing the progression of the disease, reducing mortality and boosting recovery.

"TCM therapeutic solutions need such a battlefield to show the world its advantages and efficacy," said Zhang who wrote the words "Cheer up, Zhang" on his protective suits.

Due to exhaustion and an irregular diet, the veteran expert started suffering from cholecystitis for which he had to undergo a gallbladder surgery on Feb. 19 in Wuhan.

Officials of the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine urged Zhang to return home in Tianjin for recuperation, but he refused.

"The battle has just begun. How can I withdraw from the frontline at such a critical moment?" he said.

He started working from his sickbed just hours after surgery. "This small table is my battlefield since I cannot go to the wards to supervise the treatment," he said, pointing to the table beside his bed.

PATIENTS' INTEREST FIRST

In the 1960s, Zhang, a medical college graduate, had a chance to see a group of TCM medics at a rural hospital in Tianjin select medical herbs and weigh those carefully to create prescribed combinations. Patients reported less pain after taking the decoction medicine, which drew Zhang to pursue the study of traditional Chinese medicine.

He was admitted to the graduate class of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Tianjin University in 1978.

At that time, rural areas lacked medical resources. Zhang often rode his bike to visit patients either in farms, on fishing boats or at construction sites.

"No matter how hard it is, I am proud to save lives with my medical skills. It is my greatest duty and mission to cure patients by all means," Zhang said.

Zhang has donated more than 4 million yuan (about 580,000 U.S. dollars) of the money he received from awards to set up a scholarship fund for elite TCM majors whose families are facing financial crunch.

Despite his age, he has devoted himself to the development of modern TCM industry and its legislation, as he believes the system of medicine needs to be modernized.

"TCM is old, but not outdated. What hinders the development of the sector is the lack of technology. If we can combine the theory of TCM with modern technology, we will create innovative and outstanding achievements," said Zhang, who has become a pioneer of the endeavor.

In 2015, Zhang and his team won the first prize of the State Scientific and Technological Progress Award for his project on the development of patent Chinese medicine.

"The herbal formula of Liuwei Dihuang has been used to treat kidney deficiency syndrome for 700 years. With the new technology developed by my project, we can now tell which compositions in the TCM combinations are really effective for the treatment, so that we can extract the essence to make pills and discard the useless parts," Zhang said.

The modernization of TCM can help spread it worldwide, said Zhang who has always been open-minded and willing to share his knowledge.

A German student who studied TCM with Zhang for years opened his own TCM clinic when he went back to Germany. Some of his patients are drawn by his reputation and travel far to visit him for treatment.

Zhang has joined dozens of video sessions this year to share his TCM treatment experience on COVID-19 with medics in other countries.

According to the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, China has shared TCM therapy, effective prescriptions and clinical experience for dealing with COVID-19 with more than 80 countries and regions.

Lianhua Qingwen capsule, a recommended patent TCM for the treatment of COVID-19, has got marketing approvals in more than 10 countries and regions.

"Chinese medics have relied on joint consultations between TCM and Western medicine experts in treating COVID-19. Regardless of national boundaries, I hope TCM can help more and more people worldwide," Zhang said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wen Ying, Bianji)

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