As the country has overcome the coronavirus crisis, interest in promoting research into green chiretta or fah talai jone, a herbal medicine that played a role in treating a large number of patients at the peak of the pandemic, has subsided. This is unfortunate.
While it's welcome news that Thailand's coronavirus problem is on a downward trend, as defined in May by the World Health Organization (WHO), the public should know the virus isn't done yet.
In the first week of October, Thailand saw 131 people hospitalised with the virus and five deaths, followed by 124 people in hospital and three deaths in the second week.
As the virus is no longer a health emergency at this stage, the country should take this opportunity to do more research into green chiretta, which became a herbal champion during the peak of Covid-19, as anti-viral drugs like favipiravir and molnupiravir were scarce -- not to mention public concerns about the side effects of this modern medicine.
As a matter of principle, the Public Health Ministry should maintain the interest in green chiretta rather than allowing this opportunity to fly by like a flash in a pan. However, this is not happening. Worse yet, a number of doctors in non-traditional medicine still doubt the benefits of this herbal medicine.
In July, the Health Systems Research Institute (HSRI) found itself at the centre of criticism when it released a research study that ruled out the benefits of green chiretta in treating lung inflammation and coronavirus. It also warned about potential liver damage arising from prolonged use. Such findings triggered a debate, and the institute eventually withdrew the research after it was found to be riddled with flaws.
There is a lot to be learned from this research gaffe.
Supaporn Pitiporn, a prominent advocate of herbal tonics, said the benefits of green chiretta, which has been championed by Prachin Buri-based Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, are evident. Laboratory tests have proven it to be a success, she said.
The former head pharmacist of Abhaibhubejhr Hospital recalled seeing green chiretta used in a provincial prison as the hospital supplied it to the prison when the anti-virus drugs were not available during the pandemic.
"No inmates have succumbed to the virus," she said.
The herb advocate conceded that carrying out research when the virus is at its low point is not particularly easy as there are fewer cases for study. But this is no excuse.
In fact, she noted there are a few projects on green chiretta being conducted by local researchers in several parts of the country. Due to technical reasons, these works remain largely unpublished.
Yet Thailand's success in using green chiretta has won international recognition. Despite the limitations in terms of what the herb can do, Western researchers have been citing the efforts of Thai researchers, she said.
The Public Health Ministry must plug the gap in this area.
The virus is, as the WHO noted, changing all the time. As such, it pays to be prudent and to equip the medical community with more knowledge about this herb, especially how it works in battling the virus and how to improve it.
If successful, green chiretta could help the country be more self-reliant when it comes to medicine. There is no reason not to adopt this herb as another option for doctors to dispense.