Chinese Government recommending bear bile to treat COVID-19

Yvonne O'Halloran

COVID-19 emerged in China’s Wuhan in December 2019 and has since spread around the globe. It has claimed more than 30,000 lives so far. On February 24th 2020, the Chinese government began to lay the groundwork to impose a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of live wild animals. This however, does not include the trade of wild animals for medicine, pets, and scientific research which can, and is continuing in China.

According to the National Geographic, the Chinese Government has recommended using Tan Re Qing, and injection containing bear bile, to treat severe and critical COVID-19 cases. This was published by China’s National Health Commission, the government body that is responsible for national health policy.

The bile contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, also known as ursodiol, which is clinically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease.  Clifford Steer, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, US, has told National Geographic that there is no evidence that bear bile can effectively treat COVID-19. In fact, it may worsen the patient’s condition, as the acid’s ability to keep cells alive “may alleviate symptoms of COVID-19 because of its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to calm the immune response”.

The World Health Organization also states that no cure exists for COVID-19, though some medicines, such as pain relievers and cough syrup, can treat symptoms associated with the disease.

The extraction of bile is invasive and painful. Bile can be drained via a catheter, syringe, or pipe inserted into the gallbladder. Or captors can create an open duct from the bear’s gallbladder to its abdomen, allowing the bile to drip freely. This is considered somewhat more humane, but catheters may be left in indefinitely, causing irritation and infection. Metal catheters may begin to rust or decompose within the bear’s body.

The animals are often sedated with ketamine or restrained with ropes, cages, or metal jackets during the extraction process. Bears may suffer infections, starvation, dehydration, diseases, and malignant tumours, and they often die from these ailments. Consumers of bear bile run the risk of ingesting bile from sick bears, which can be contaminated with blood, feces, pus, urine, and bacteria. If the animals stop producing bile, they may be left to starve or be slaughtered, many times in the black market.

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