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Hun Sen Contradicts Senior Health Official Over Use of Traditional Medicines

The FDA-approved packaging comes with an English text, indicating the generic names of all the 13 herbs in the formula. (Photo: Business Wire)
The FDA-approved packaging comes with an English text, indicating the generic names of all the 13 herbs in the formula. (Photo: Business Wire)

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said he was routinely using a Chinese-made drug to shield himself against COVID-19, despite a senior Cambodian health official’s warning last week against the use of traditional medicine to protect against the virus.

Hun Sen addressed the nation on Thursday after it reached a record number of daily deaths and Covid-19 cases were reported this week. He said finding the correct medicines, referring to a Chinese traditional medicine he uses, would be instrumental to saving lives.

“We made efforts to search for it and we have now found one. That one was used even in UAE’s Dubai or in the Middle East. They are just using this Chinese medicine that we have been using,” he said.

“I am also taking this medicine. Before going out or traveling, I take this medication. Even when I am not sick, I have to take this medication as additional protection.”

Hun Sen was likely referring to Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional Chinese medicine currently used as a supplementary treatment for COVID-19. It was used in China during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and has been recently invoked to treat COVID-19 patients.

The message appears to contradict Health Ministry Secretary of State Or Vandine’s advice to the Cambodian public to not turn to alternative medicine to stave off the virus.

“Beside vaccines, there is no medicine that has been certified as the ones to prevent COVID-19,” Or Vandine said on June 24 addressing growing sales of Lianhua Qingwen in the market.

“It, in contrast, could affect our health and bodies because we are not sure that we are sick with COVID-19 or not,” she added. “The medicine that brothers and sisters are buying to use, I can tell, is not a preventive one, offering no protection [against COVID-19].”

Or Vandine, who is a trained medical doctor, could not be reached on Thursday to comment on Hun Sen’s speech. Government Spokesperson Phay Siphan did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Sek Socheat, an analyst who heads the Mindset Development Organization, said the public could be confused when the head of the government and medical professionals are at odds when it comes to recommending COVID-19 medication and prevention strategies.

“The senior officials – both the head of government and leadership of specialized sectors including those in the Health Ministry – should speak in one voice because their cohesive message could enhance confidence, trust, and clarity with regards to risks from the virus they are fighting,” Sek Socheat said.

Sek Socheat urged local health officials to consult with the World Health Organization on the safety and effectiveness of any medication used to treat or protect against the disease.

The country​ has registered 52,350 COVID-19 cases and 660 deaths as of Thursday, almost all of which has been reported since February 20.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng, during a visit to a public hospital in Phnom Penh in late May, attributed the increase in COVID-19 recoveries to Lianhua Qingwen capsules being part of a cocktail of medications given to patients.

Information from the drug’s manufacturer, Yiling Pharmaceutical, says that the medication should not be used long-term and that if symptoms do not dissipate in a few days, patients should consult a medical professional. It stated that those with chronic heart, liver, kidney, and hypertension diseases should use the pills only after consulting a doctor and advised against using the drug with other medication.

The Cambodian Health Ministry authorized the sale and use of Lianhua Qingwen on April 27 – just four days before the Chinese government donated around 88,000 boxes of the traditional medicine.

Local firm, Dynamic Pharma, claims to be the exclusive importer and distributor of the drug and has donated more than 50,000 boxes of the medicine to the Samdech Techo Voluntary Youth Doctor Association (T.Y.D.A) in June.

In a paper published in the ScienceDirect’s Complementary Therapies in Medicine journal, Chinese researchers from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine found “significant” efficacy in using Lianhua Qingwen to treat COVID-19 patients.

“The clinical application of LQ on the treatment of COVID-19 has significant efficacy in improving clinical symptoms and reducing the rate of clinical change to severe or critical condition,” the authors wrote in the paper published on June 19.

“Nevertheless, due to the limited quantity and quality of the included studies, more and higher quality trials with more observational indicators are expected to be published.”