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The WHO Just Recognised Traditional Chinese Medicine And Conservation Groups Are Mad

The World Health Organisation's recognition of traditional medicines will have "repercussions for wild animals", green groups claim.

The World Health Assembly, which just wrapped up in Geneva, saw the 194  member states adopt the latest version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) -- and the WHO's recognition of traditional medicines such as Chinese medicine as a legitimate source of diagnosis.

The ICD defines the global standard for diagnosis, understanding causes of death and disease, and reporting of health conditions internationally.

Traditional Chinese pharmacy, San Francisco. Photo: Getty

Among changes from the previous manual include the recognition of gaming addiction, as well as recognition of "burn-out" as a legitimate medical condition.

However, the WHO's decision to recognise diagnoses provided by traditional medicine for over 400 conditions has proved the most controversial.

READ MORE:A Record 13 Tonnes Of Pangolin Scales Worth $54 Million Have Been Seized

READ MORE: Woman Who Killed Giraffe Says It Was Part Of A Conservation Effort

ICD-11 now contains a supplementary chapter that discusses disorders and patterns of symptoms that originated in ancient Chinese medicine, and which are now commonly recognised in China, Japan and Korea.

Conservation groups have expressed their disappointment with this decision because of the implications for wild animal trade.

Panthera, a big cat conservation organisation based in New York city, said WHO's formal recognition of traditional Chinese medicine may have concerning "repercussions for wild animals if the industry grows without greater clarity".

Pathera chief scientist Doctor John Goodrich stated the recognition of traditional Chinese medicine acts as a "stamp of approval from the United Nations on the overall practice, which includes the use of remedies utilising wild animal parts".

"Failure to specifically condemn the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine utilising wild animal parts is egregiously negligent and irresponsible," he said.

The list of wild animals poached for use in traditional medicine treatment is extensive.

Tigers, antelope, buffalo, rhinos, deers, dogs, bears, and snakes are all hunted for products to treat a wide range of ailments.

The black market for these animal products is immense -- for example, nearly 13 tonnes of pangolin scales, intended for Chinese medicine use, were seized by Singapore authorities last month.

Rare animal parts, monkey skulls, bear gall bladders and tiger's penis are sold in the wildlife markets of Mongla, a remote town on the border with China. Source: Getty Images.

The shipment amounted to approximately 21,000 of the world's most poached animal. The scales are used to treat malarial fever, deafness, hysterical crying in children and nervousness, amongst other conditions.

A spokesperson for WWF Australia told 10 daily although they acknowledge the importance of traditional medicine to many cultures, "any integration of traditional medicines into the World Health Organisation compendium must adhere to the principles of legality and sustainability of ingredients made from animals and plants."

"Governments must ensure that the use of endangered species in traditional medicines is stopped, including through putting in place, raising awareness of and enforcing strong policies," the spokesperson said.

A 2012 WHO survey found 82 percent of the world's population have adopted some form of traditional medicine.

WHO believes inclusion of traditional diagnoses and treatment will help to translate important information across Eastern and Western medicine systems.

The logic is that there are too many people in the world reliant on alternative or complementary medicines to ignore them in global health programs.

A Malaysian Wildlife official displays seized rhino horns and other animal parts at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on August 20, 2018. Source: Getty Images.

However, even from a scientific point of view, WHO's decision has been contentious.

Oncologist David Gorski described the inclusion of traditional medicine in ICD-11 as a "the integration of quackery with real medicine".

Gorski outlined several conditions with diagnoses in the manual including "Bladder meridian pattern" which is "characterised by clashing headache and sensation that the eyes are being torn out" among other symptoms, including "impaired use of the little toe".

Emeritus professor Alistair MacLennan, a past vice president of evidence-based medicine organisation Friends of Science in Medicine, told 10 daily traditional medicine "rarely has any scientific basis and is based on dangerous myths."

Authorities have seized 13 tonnes of pangolin scales being illegally shipped through Singapore. Source: Getty.

"It is propagated by those with major financial interests in selling its false diagnostic and pseudo-therapeutic techniques," MacLennan said.

WHO have already outlined a strategy for the inclusion of traditional medicine in global healthcare systems and want to see it managed and regulated effectively.

The new ICD will work in conjunction with the International Classification of Traditional Medicine, a database of traditional medicine terminology that can be standardised.