Claims for Chinese medicine’s effect on reducing COVID severity remain unproven
Findings from a rapid systematic review carried out by British and Australian authors were unable to either support or refute the official claim that Chinese herbal medicine - specifically ‘three medicines and three formulations’ (3M3F, comprising Jinhua Qinggan, Lianhua Qingwen, Xuebijing, Qingfei Paidu, Huashi Baidu and Xuanfei Baidu) - is an effective treatment for COVID-19. The 3M3F were claimed to have significant efficacy after observation of population data, and the role of 3M3F in COVID-19 treatment was officially announced in a Chinese government press conference in March 2020, where it was promoted as being able to relieve symptoms, and reduce the number of mild or moderate cases that progressed to severe. Thirteen primary studies (six RCTs and seven retrospective non-randomised comparative studies) with 1467 participants were included in the authors’ analyses. While the studies did appear to suggest that 3M3F, when used on top of usual care, could offer relief of some symptoms experienced by mild or moderate COVID-19 patients, the results did not support the high-level claims that 3M3F could prevent the disease from progressing to a more severe level. Studies were found to be small and judged to have significant methodological limitations, most notably potential bias in assessment of outcomes. No study convincingly demonstrated a statistically significant impact on change in disease severity. Meta-analysis of data from eight of the studies showed some statistically significant impacts on respiratory symptoms, chest CT manifestations, laboratory variables and length of hospital stay, but such findings were sparse and the authors report that many remain unreplicated.