A Chinese doctor who called a popular brand of traditional medicine “poison” has been detained without charge by police for three months, in a case that has angered the country’s medical community.
Physician Tan Qindong said in a December article that the popular “Hongmao Medicinal Liquor” was toxic, prompting a complaint from the Inner Mongolia-based drug maker, local media reported.
Hongmao is popular among the elderly but Tan questioned the evidence behind claims made by the manufacturer that the product could cure illnesses including joint pain and coronary heart disease.
Tan was detained by police from northern Inner Mongolia at his home in the southern city of Guangzhou — more than 2,300 kilometres away — on January 10.
He has languished in detention for three months, even though police have not pressed charges, which has roiled China’s medical community.
“Government organisations must respond to different academic opinions with caution, and avoid criminalising civil disputes,” the Chinese Medical Doctor Association said in a statement Monday.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an enormous industry in China, with a total value in excess of US$130 billion in 2016, according to the official news agency Xinhua.
The case is the latest in a series of skirmishes between proponents of TCM, which lacks medical trials to prove the efficacy of some substances, and doctors advocating for evidence-based, peer-reviewed medicine.
Responding to public uproar over the case, the state drug administration on Monday ordered Hongmao to “adhere to national drug advertising rules”.
China’s drug regulator approved the alcohol to be sold as an over-the-counter traditional Chinese medicinal product in 2003.
But since 2010, the medicinal wine has been temporarily pulled from shelves in three provinces, due to “exaggerated advertising claims,” data from the drug regulator showed
In February, the company’s advertisements were banned in Shaanxi province as part of a crackdown on food fraud and false advertising.
Hongmao Pharmaceutical Co. could not be reached for comment.
Activists say growing demand for various TCM remedies such as rhino horn and pangolin scales — which have no proven medical properties — have decimated vulnerable animal species and filled the coffers of global wildlife trafficking syndicates.