Chinese government’s prescription for H7N9 bird flu draws ridicule online but buying frenzy offline

Alia | April 5th, 2013 - 9:31 pm

The latest number from China has that there are a total of 16 confirmed infections of the new H7N9 bird flu, among which, 6 have died. Most infection cases were found in Southern China near Shanghai. But with fresh memories of the SARS epidemic 10 years ago, almost everybody in China is looking for preventive measures. However, advice from the Chinese government draws more criticism than appreciation.

At the center of much online ridicule is ban lan gen (woad root or Isatis root), a kind of herb that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to cure common cold, sore throat and respiratory ailments. Ban lan gen and other TCM formulas have been said to play an important role in fighting SARS 10 year ago. Back then, there was a period when ban lan gen was sold out everywhere in town. With the new H7N9 flu, the herb seems to be back under the spotlight. Only this time, it’s not as welcomed, online at least.

Map of H7N9 cases by CCTV

Health authorities from the province of Jiangsu suggested ban lan gen herbal tea, among other TCMs, as an effective way to ward off the flu virus. Shanghai government also recommended the use of TCMs during a press conference on H7N9 bird flu. On their list was ban lan gen.

Not all are buying the official promotion of TCM and ban lan gen. Many Chinese netizens joked: “After 10 years, we have a new president. Yet when it comes to flu, we still have the same old ban lan gen, the miracle medicine.”

Netizen 北京男孩 summarized: “The Ministry of Health: SARS, ban lan gen; H1N1 flu, ban lan gen; H5N1 flu, ban lan gen, H7N9 flu, still ban lan gen! Got flu? Drink ban lan gen!”

Weibo celebrity, 作业本, reminisced about his past: “Miracle medicine ban lan gen reminds me of my 2003. I was preparing for the college entrance exam, and measurements to monitor potential SARS cases were everywhere in the school. No one was allowed to step out of the school except the school president’s daughter. Memories of SARS feels so far away as if it was from my previous life. But ban lan gen takes me back in time.”

南大张生, history professor at Nanjing University commented: “In the late 80s, HVA raged Shanghai. A package of ban lan gen that used to sell at 50 cents was sold at 5 yuan. 25 years have passed; ban lan gen is still what’s recommended. Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that though this country has made progresses, some ridiculous joke like ban lan gen can always snap you.”

Granular ban lan gan

The word “ban lan gen” (板蓝根) even becomes some sort of an Internet meme – netizens started to replace words and phrases in traditional Chinese poems with “ban lan gen.” For example, “但愿人长久,相伴板蓝根 (Hope friends are forever, just like the companionship of ban lan gen),” “十年生死两茫茫,板蓝根,自难忘 (People come and go over the course of 10 years, but ban lan gen will never be forgotten.”

Even Peopl’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, also stood out to calm down the ban lan gen frenzy. In an inforgraphic that laid out what ban lan gen can and cannot do in detail, the newspaper said: “Ban lan gen has nothing more than a placebo effect.”

Jokes and criticism, however, don’t mean people won’t buy ban lan gan. There are already news about ban lan gen being sold out in some pharmacies in Shanghai and Beijing. In a Weibo poll (China’s Twitter), netizens were asked whether they will consider buying ban lan gen in the face of H7N9 flu. The result was half and half. Among the 5000-something netizens who weighed in, about 49% said yes, they would buy just in case. About 44% said no, because they don’t buy the hype.

Such a “just in case” mentality is very common among Chinese consumers. Like netizen 鹿茸京客隆 explained: “Ban lan gen doesn’t cure, that’s for sure. But it brings mental ease. When there is no cure for H7N9 yet, ban lan gen offers some psychological comfort to people. That’s a good use, too.”

Ban lan gen isn’t the only government suggestion that has been ridiculed by netizens. Beijing government also recommended families to keep their windows open and let the air flow. Shanghai government suggested its residents to drink more water. The advice,  as many netizens pointed out, won’t lead to any better health anyway, given Beijing’s world-known bad air and Shanghai’s recent dead pig filled water source.

Netizen 随瘪跌石石石石 joked: “Q: ‘How to keep smog at bay?’ Expert: ‘Stay at home and keep windows closed.’ Q: ‘How to keep H7N9 flu virus at bay?’ Expert: ‘Keep windows open and let the air flow.’ So the conclusion is…you die in Beijing either way.” Another netizen 深夜叹息的云 suggested: “Two best ways to safeguard against bird flu: 1) drink a lot of water; and 2) keep the air flow. People living in Shanghai please ignore 1. People living in Beijing please ignore 2.”

So far, the Chinese government has done an OK job informing the public of the latest news on the H7N9 flu. Most media accounts on Sina Weibo have been updating flu related information since the first few cases broke out. But apparently, the Chinese public wants more.

Ban lan gen sold out in a Shanghai pharmacy [source: Sohu News]

Ban lan gen

 

 

 

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10 Responses to “Chinese government’s prescription for H7N9 bird flu draws ridicule online but buying frenzy offline”

  1. Geea says:

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    美国医学界在2011年首次提出了“精准医学”的概念,今年1月20日,奥巴马又在美国国情咨文中提出“精准医学计划”,希望精准医学可以引领一个医学新时代。10月8日,2015全球创新论坛纽约峰会在纽约穆迪总部大楼举办。乐土投资集团CEO刘如银在峰会上介绍了他的精准医疗生态圈的想法。

    刘如银介绍了乐土投资在美国的国际化实践,包括在美国的地产投资拓展,以及最新投资的医疗健康项目。乐土投资集团(CLIG)定位以硅谷的高科技投资为引擎,以科技医疗和互联网金融为两翼,链接最具价值的深科技健康项目,服务国际大健康和科技发展。

    美国财政预算计划在2016年拨付给美国国立卫生研究院(NIH)、美国食品药品监督管理局(FDA)、美国国家医疗信息技术协调办公室(ONC)等机构共2.15亿美元用于资助这方面的科学研究与创新发展。

    刘如银说:美国的精准医疗主要是围绕着基因组、蛋白组等方面的检测,也就是围绕分子生物学的特性,针对个体化的病理特征进行治疗。而我们所关注的不仅如此,更是系统化的,全过程、全要素、全局性的对医疗过程和临床实践进行优化。我们所指的精准医疗也是针对每一个病人的具体病情,正确选择并精确的应用适当的治疗方法。刘如银认为:精准医疗的最终目标是以最小化的医源性损害、最低化的医疗资源耗费去获得最大化的病患的效益,其前景不可限量。

    精准医疗要做到个性、高效及预防的关键在于筛查和诊断,因此基因测序等检测诊断技术的发展是关键。成本的下降让基因测序商业化市场的打开成为可能,基因测序技术的成熟和商用经过了多年的发展,1980 年自动测序仪出现,2001 年完成了人类基因组框架图标志着这一技术的成熟,2007 年二代基因测序技术大幅降低测序成本,使得这一技术应用出现可能,以走在前列的Illumina 公司为例,该公司自2007 年起把当时每个基因组的测序成本费用从1000万美元降到了当下的1000 美元, 根据Illumina 公司数据,全球NGS(二代基因测序)的应用市场规模预计为200 亿美元,药品研发和临床应用是增速最快的领域,增速超过15%,肿瘤诊断和个性化用药是最有应用前景的领域,市场规模120亿美元。乐土投资与Illumina以及新一代的基因检测公司Genalyte, Centrillion都有着合作关系。

    刘如银说:精准医疗作为医疗模式的革新对提高我国国民健康水平有重要意义,将在基因测序技术发展和国家政策的推动下迎来黄金发展期。精准治疗是下一个新兴朝阳行业,我们关注基因测序、肿瘤诊断及个性化用药等相关投资机会。

    全球创新论坛纽约峰会由全美华人金融协会(The Chinese Finance Association, TCFA) 主办。全美华人金融协会于一九九四年在美国成立。分布在世界各地的会员来自华尔街投行、基金、监管部门、和学术界,已成为联系中美金融界最重要的桥梁之一。协会定期举行学术年会。协会本部设在纽约,并在波士顿,华盛顿,旧金山,伦敦,香港,北京和上海等金融中心设有分会。

    原招商银行行长马蔚华,中信银行美国分行行长文兵,汉世纪投资管理有限公司合伙人吴皓,联合国南南合作办首席经济与投资专家杨庆宏等参加了本年度会议并发表了讲话。

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