Just thought I’ll share this rather interesting interview with my more scientifically inclined followers. For me the message is rather clear; never make a quack a Prof otherwise healthcare might just suddenly find itself all the way back in the dark ages. Below you can find the unedited interview that appeared in the People’s Daily Online a couple of weeks ago. Because I am so tired of highlighting how people are being BSed by the NICM, regarding Traditional Chinese Medicine (and a lot of other rubbish), I am not even going to comment on the multiple issues (my less scientifically inclined followers should maybe first read these background articles here, here and here)
Start of interview:
“China is the only nation in the world to have systematically and conscientiously protected and invested in its traditional medicine. Professor Alan Bensoussan, who has been researching Chinese medicine for more than 30 years, is the only foreigner in 2013 who had received the prestigious International Award for Contribution to Chinese Medicine.
Professor Bensoussan is the Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) at the University of Western Sydney, the largest institute in Australia that does research in traditional Chinese medicine. The institute focuses on four areas; neuro cognitional dementia and mental health in general, cancer, womens’ health and cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
“We have regulated the practice so that practitioners are recognised now so I think China continuing this interaction, engagement with the West, will only lead to greater improvements in the science of Chinese medicine,” Professor Bensoussan said.
Professor Bensoussan emphasised the importance of conducting clinical trials on Western patients in order to find ways to approve traditional medicine in Western countries.
“What we have to do is translate those medicines, develop the science, translate them for the use in the West,” he said.
“So the opportunities, you’ve got a field of medicine that is being used that has been the main form of medicine for all over the world for centuries. There are going to be endless opportunities.”
Professor Bensoussan believes that the advantage of Chinese medicine is that it provides a number of compounds in a mixture and lower dosage levels that will gradually readjust the body’s physiology.
“I think for me personally, the magic doesn’t lie in the purification of the medicine to identify a single compound … but the magic in Chinese medicine for me is actually the interface between foods and purified drugs,” Professor Bensoussan said.
It was learning about the science of acupuncture back in the 70s that triggered his curiosity to delve deeper.
“Chinese medicine offered a different perspective of the patients’ health, a different perspective of their health and illness because the theory is different. It offers different ways of viewing how symptoms and signs are connected and so this was interesting.”
His best experience regarding Chinese medicine was in 1984 and 1985 when he studied at Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. Since then, Professor Bensoussan has been back 30 to 40 times for various research collaborations and different study periods.
Professor Bensoussan has high expectations for the future of traditional Chinese medicine such as treating chronic diseases in the West.
“It [Chinese medicine] was the system of healthcare in China for a quarter of the world for centuries so the field is very fertile, very rich with opportunities … We have the infrastructure, we have the resources, we have the enthusiasm, we need the partnerships with China to accelerate this.” Professor Bensoussan is also fundraising for NICM to further support their research.
Professor Bensoussan has been the Chair of the Advisory Committee for Complementary Medicines of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration from 2011 to 2014 and has also served frequently as a consultant in traditional medicine to the World Health Organisation.
He has also published over 160 scientific papers and two books, including a review of acupuncture research in 1990 and a government report on the practice of traditional Chinese medicine in Australia in 1996.”
The BRICS summit kicks off tomorrow in Johannesburg with leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in attendance, representing roughly half the worlds population. A few days ago President Xi Jinping of China published an open letter in a number of South African newspapers with the title “For a New Era of China-South African Friendship”. (you can read the full letter below.)
But there are a few of comments that I need to make regarding the contents of this letter.
-The letter asks for improved cooperation and friendship between China and South Africa in various sectors such as education, finance, tourism, infrastructure etc. Although the letter in general is quite positive, there are a couple of negative issues that needs to be highlighted. For example; it gives only one specific example of industry ‘collaboration’ indicating that this specific industry is really important to China.
“Traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] companies are actively exploring the South African market, introducing acupuncture, cupping and other traditional Chinese therapies to the South African people as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit. Chinese volunteers have mobilized Chinese companies and Chinese communities in South Africa to partner with local animal conservation organizations and make their contribution to wildlife protection in Africa. These are all powerful examples of China-South Africa and China-Africa friendship.”
Real collaboration should focus on working together to tackle pressing healthcare problems in both countries (or for that matter, in all five BRICS countries) by promoting modern healthcare, improving accessibility and affordability, funding education and research, etc. and together striving to become world leaders in modern healthcare. We are talking about almost half the worlds population, so what better platform to tackle global healthcare issues.
So, the above statement is not about collaboration but rather about forcing an ancient and thoroughly debunked healthcare system based on pseudoscientific principles onto Africa (and other BRICS countries) for the sake of expanding the export market of Chinese TCM companies. Apparently, these companies (or the TCM industry) are too big to fail and hence the decision was made not to wind it down over time, but rather to promote and internationalise it – for whatever logic that makes. Adding that there is collaboration in wildlife protection is in my view a bit of a joke, but I guess some people will consider this to be a sincere gesture (well, the dehorned Rhino in our local zoo is funded by the Chinese embassy, for what it’s worth).
A very effective way of making TCM acceptable, or even wanted, in South Africa is by using the strategy of anti-colonialism or even racism (a very clever, but unethical, marketing strategy in SA); “Our peoples forged a deep friendship during our common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism.” Indirectly implying that modern healthcare is an invention of the imperialist West and an acceptable alternative therefore is of course TCM. Hence the phrase “… as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit.” The fact that TCM is by and large ineffective, based on ancient debunked principles, and sometimes extremely dangerous, is obviously not mentioned.
TCM is unfortunately part of how China (or rather the Chinese Communist Party) wants to exert soft power globally and expand its massive TCM industry (currently worth roughly $170 billion). I have written about how they achieved this in Australia and it seems to me that the Australian model (you can read about it here, here and here) will now be implemented in Africa via South Africa. Unfortunately, my efforts in Australia went unnoticed with not a single politician or regulator batting an eyelid in regard to the dangers that TCM poses to global healthcare and wildlife – I might however have been too late to influence the process.
Collaboration between countries works best when there is mutual trust, something that President Xi Jinping also mentions in his letter “We must steadily elevate our political mutual trust to new levels”. Now, how can you build trust when one country wants to dump fake medicines and treatments on another country? I just don’t see that happening.
We in South Africa do not want to start slapping each other to cure diabetes, or use rhino horn (or start skinning our donkeys, use lion bones etc) to ‘cure’ disease. Because once you start promoting these things as being effective medical treatments, before you know it, we might even start to stick needles into each other to influence the flow of Chi through meridians. This is how a society return to the dark ages of healthcare, and definitely not something that you wish upon your friends, or how you build trust between countries. We would far rather collaborate with China on improving and modernising healthcare in both countries. For what it’s worth, let’s put the wellbeing of society before profits.
Full text of Chinese President Xi’s signed article on South African media
Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 22 published a signed article titled “For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship” on three South African newspapers, namely, The Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune and Weekend Argus, ahead of his state visit to the African country.
The following is the full text of the article:
For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship
President of the People’s Republic of China
It gives me great pleasure to pay my third state visit to the Republic of South Africa and attend the 10th BRICS Summit at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa. I am full of expectations as I am about to set foot again on the beautiful land of South Africa, the rainbow nation standing at the convergence of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and home to unique and magnificent landscapes, industrious and enterprising people, and colorful and pluralistic cultures.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between our two countries, but the friendly interactions between our peoples go far beyond that. Our peoples forged a deep friendship during our common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism. After the birth of a new South Africa, especially in the past 20 years of diplomatic relations, our two countries have supported and learned from each other in our respective exploration of a development path suited to national conditions. This relationship has stood the test of time and a changing international environment. From a partnership to a strategic partnership, and then to a comprehensive strategic partnership, this relationship has made big strides and demonstrated a strong growth momentum in political trust, economic and trade cooperation, people-to-people exchanges and strategic coordination.
Over the past six years, our two countries have worked closely as co-chairs of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to advance the comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership between China and Africa. Our bilateral ties have thus served as a model for China-Africa relations, for South-South cooperation, and for unity and cooperation among emerging market countries, and offered valuable experience for building an even stronger community with a shared future between China and Africa and a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.
We enjoy close high-level exchanges and fruitful practical cooperation across the board. Our leaders have, through frequent mutual visits, meetings and other exchanges, provided top-level and strategic guidance for the bilateral ties. China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for nine years in a row, and South Africa has become China’s largest trading partner in Africa. Two-way trade totaled 39.17 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, more than 20 times the figure at the start of our diplomatic engagement. Preliminary statistics show that China’s direct investment in South Africa has grown by more than 80 times and exceeded 10.2 billion U.S. dollars in cumulative terms, creating tens of thousands of jobs for local communities and giving a strong boost to the South African economy. Many Chinese companies are running successful businesses in South Africa, which is a full testament to our mutually beneficial relationship for common development. South African companies, for their part, are also making great success in China.
In recent years, measures such as hosting the Year of China/South Africa and launching the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism have brought our two peoples even closer with greater mutual understanding and friendship. We have seen expanding cooperation in such areas as education, culture, science and technology, and health, and growing exchanges between our youths and women. South Africa has attracted more Chinese tourists, established sister relations with more Chinese provinces and cities, and opened more Confucius Institutes and classrooms than any other Sub-Saharan country. China has become an increasingly popular destination for South African students and tourists. Traditional Chinese medicine companies are actively exploring the South African market, introducing acupuncture, cupping and other traditional Chinese therapies to the South African people as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit. Chinese volunteers have mobilized Chinese companies and Chinese communities in South Africa to partner with local animal conservation organizations and make their contribution to wildlife protection in Africa. These are all powerful examples of China-South Africa and China-Africa friendship.
South Africa is now on a new journey of national development. President Ramaphosa has put forth the goals of growing the economy, creating jobs, improving people’s lives and advancing social transformation, thereby ushering South Africa into a new era of hope and confidence. China looks forward to working with South Africa to build on the momentum of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties and strive for faster and greater progress in our comprehensive strategic partnership.
– We must steadily elevate our political mutual trust to new levels. We need to maintain high-level exchanges, strengthen inter-party cooperation and governance experience sharing, continue to provide each other with mutual understanding and support on issues bearing on our respective core interests and major concerns, and stay forever as each other’s reliable good friend, good brother and good partner. I look forward to receiving President Ramaphosa in Beijing in September and co-chairing with him the FOCAC Beijing Summit.
– We must strive for new outcomes in our practical cooperation. We need to promote complementarity between our development strategies, and make full use of bilateral mechanisms, FOCAC, the Belt and Road Initiative, BRICS cooperation, and other platforms to deepen cooperation in key areas such as industries, production capacity, resources and energy, infrastructure, finance, tourism, and digital economy and deliver more benefits to our peoples.
– We must increase communication to add new impetus to our people-to-people exchanges. We need to leverage the role of the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism in enhancing communication between our peoples, expand cooperation in education, culture, science and technology, health, and sports, and promote exchanges between youths, women, think tanks and media outlets. Such measures will bring greater public support for China-South Africa friendship, and make our peoples be more closely connected.
– We must strengthen collaboration and scale new heights in our strategic coordination. We need to support each other in hosting the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit and the 10th BRICS Summit, step up coordination and cooperation within multilateral frameworks including the UN, the G20 and BRICS, and promote the reform of the global governance system in a joint effort to advance the fundamental interests of African and other developing countries, to build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind, and to contribute wisdom and proposals to solving the world’s most pressing issues.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the BRICS Summit. Ten years on, BRICS cooperation has achieved remarkable development and gained an ever-growing influence. This year’s summit will be the first one held in the second “Golden Decade” of BRICS cooperation. China will go all out to support South Africa in hosting this event. Under the theme of “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” we will deepen BRICS strategic partnership, enhance BRICS solidarity and cooperation, and facilitate the inter-connected development of BRICS countries. We are confident that this summit will usher in an even brighter future for BRICS cooperation.
This year celebrates yet another important event, the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela, the inaugural president of the new South Africa. To quote Mr. Mandela, “The African rebirth is now more than an idea. Its seeds are being sown in the regional communities we are busy building and in the continent as a whole.” With unremitting efforts, South Africa and the rest of the African Continent gained a new life in the last century. I am confident that this century will witness the rejuvenation of South Africa and that of the whole African Continent. Let us work together for a new era of China-South Africa friendship.
A negative result! And this coming from acupuncturists – not something that happens very often. And what’s more, it’s published in a very prestigious journal, the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’ (JAMA), impact factor = 44. So, all I can say is, wow, did not see this one coming. Because usually they will spin the result into a positive using various techniques and various media platforms, and yet, here we have a very clear negative, even their (social) media platforms proudly proclaims; “Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates”. Sure, they still tried their best to give it some sort of positive spin by stating:
“We examined the effects of a short course of acupuncture administered during an IVF cycle….. However, in clinical practice, acupuncture may include more sessions prior to an IVF cycle starting.”
“Stress is thought to play a role in infertility…..In our earlier research, acupuncture was shown to reduce the emotional stress and burden experienced by women during IVF treatment.”
Conflicts of interests
Now I have some history with this project. Back in 2012 when the NHMRC announced that they have approved $630 000 dollars for this study, it was promptly called “universities in a wacky waste of cash” in the media. Why? Because even back then acupuncture was known to be ineffective for IVF (and pretty much everything else) so why spend so much money which could have been spent on doing useful research, on something that is known not to work? Well, if you can mislead people into using acupuncture and all sorts of other ineffective remedies, then surely, you’ll be able to fool funding bodies as well. That is after all their job – to fool people, that is what promotional researchers do!
But I did notice a couple of years ago that the ‘academics’ (Prof Caroline Smith and Alan Bensoussan) from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) almost never declare their conflicts of interests. In other words, they received some sort of financial incentive (cash or in-kind) from acupuncture clinics which went undeclared, in clear violation of research ethics. They also failed to declare their conflicts of interests when they published their original trial design back in 2012 for this current acupuncture IVF study. After highlighting this issue with the journal, Trials, they eventually published a correction (erratum) in 2017 which simply state that the authors did not receive any financial compensation. Sure, she did not get any payments into her personal bank account but the NICM did receive substantial donations (evidence was send to the journal, but yes, what can I say, scientific journals nowadays, pfff). You can read more about it here, here and here.
Moving the goalposts!
But overall, publishing a negative result is so unlike the NICM, the winners of the Bent Spoon award for quackery in 2017. Or is there more to this than meets the eye? Indeed, there is something fishy and it is strange that the reviewers of such a prestigious journal did not pick up on this. To explain the issue let’s have a look at the abstract (my underlining).
Importance: Acupuncture is widely used by women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), although the evidence for efficacy is conflicting.
Objective: To determine the efficacy of acupuncture compared with a sham acupuncture control performed during IVF on live births.
Design, Setting, and Participants: A single-blind, parallel-group randomized clinical trial including 848 women undergoing a fresh IVF cycle was conducted at 16 IVF centers in Australia and New Zealand between June 29, 2011, and October 23, 2015, with 10 months of pregnancy follow-up until August 2016.
Interventions: Women received either acupuncture (n = 424) or a sham acupuncture control (n = 424). The first treatment was administered between days 6 to 8 of follicle stimulation, and 2 treatments were administered prior to and following embryo transfer. The sham control used a noninvasive needle placed away from the true acupuncture points.
Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcome was live birth, defined as the delivery of 1 or more living infants at greater than 20 weeks’ gestation or birth weight of at least 400 g.
Results: Among 848 randomized women, 24 withdrew consent, 824 were included in the study (mean [SD] age, 35.4 [4.3] years); 371 [45.0%] had undergone more than 2 previous IVF cycles), 607 proceeded to an embryo transfer, and 809 (98.2%) had data available on live birth outcomes. Live births occurred among 74 of 405 women (18.3%) receiving acupuncture compared with 72 of 404 women (17.8%) receiving sham control (risk difference, 0.5% [95% CI, −4.9% to 5.8%]; relative risk, 1.02 [95% CI, 0.76 to 1.38]).
Conclusions and Relevance: Among women undergoing IVF, administration of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture at the time of ovarian stimulation and embryo transfer resulted in no significant difference in live birth rates. These findings do not support the use of acupuncture to improve the rate of live births among women undergoing IVF.
So, clearly this study was conducted in order to see if acupuncture is effective and they found it to be ineffective – or at least that is what they want us to think. This negative result was also widely covered in newspapers around the world and yet almost all of them got it wrong. Here are a couple of examples (my underlining):
“Having acupuncture to increase IVF chances might be waste of time, study suggests” ABC news (Aus)
“Acupuncture no better than placebo for improving IVF success, trial finds” The Independent (UK)
“Study finds no evidence acupuncture boosts fertility treatment” Chicago Tribune (US)
So, what did they all get wrong? There are a number of issues with these results, not with the results per se, but with the results that they did not publish. So, I decided to write an email to the authors (and the journal editor) asking them a number of questions (this email was also undersigned by Prof Edzard Ernst). This email should explain the issue at hand. Here it is:
Dear Prof Smith et al.,
Congratulations to you and your team on the publication ‘Effect of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture on live births among women undergoing IVF’ in JAMA recently.
You are probably aware that the outcome of this project has been widely reported and is currently being discussed on numerous blog sites (here and here are two examples). During these discussions a number of questions were raised and we were hoping that you, or any of your co-authors, can provide answers or some sort of explanation for these questions.
1.Why did it take so long after the completion of this study to publish the results.
2.There is a consensus that a trial of this nature would be far more expensive than the NHMRC’s funding of $630 000 – was there a lot of in-kind support or other sources of funding?
3.The live birth rate of around 18% reported in this study seems to be low when compared to the overall success rate of IVF. According to IVF Australia women between the age of 30.0-34.9 can expect a success rate of just above 35% while women in the age category 35.0-39.9 have a success rate of just above 25%. (On Repromed’s website, who co-authored this publication, similar success rates are reported). In your study the median age was 35.4 and 35.5 in the 2 groups, and yet, a success rate of around 18% was reported. If true, does this mean that acupuncture reduce your chances on IVF success?
4.Both the ANZCTR registry and your publication in Trials where the trial design was published, included a study group 3. This group was meant to receive only IVF and it was supposed to serve as a baseline comparison. This is of course a very important aspect and yet the results were not reported nor was it mentioned or discussed – could you clarify what the reason for this omission is?
5.In various newspaper reports it is mentioned that a further two publications will flow from these results. A cost effectiveness study and a paper on the psycho-social benefits of acupuncture. But when something is shown to be ineffective (as in this study) it cannot possibly be cost effective and when no 3rd group, receiving only IVF, was included in this study, how can the psycho-social benefits be determined?
We would appreciate any answers or comments. Thank you in advance.
Needles to say (pun intended), no response has been received – yet. Now if we carefully look at the design of this study you will notice that the original study had a different title and design. On the trial registry the title is;
“Acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture and standard care to improve live birth rates for women undergoing IVF: a randomised controlled trial”
”Acupuncture to improve live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a protocol for a randomized controlled trial”
So clearly this study had three groups including the important baseline comparison of women receiving only IVF – because this is the only way that you can determine if acupuncture actually improve pregnancy or live birth rates. This is what they wanted to determine, and they were in effect supposed to investigate two questions;
Does acupuncture and/or sham acupuncture have a negative, neutral (no effect), or positive effect on IVF compared to IVF alone? – this is the important efficacy question.
Does acupuncture work better/equivalent/worse than sham acupuncture? – this is a secondary question focusing on the existence of the non-existent chi (energy) that flows through non-existent meridians.
But now they have intentionally dropped the baseline comparison (group 3) and only compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture. Therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that there is no difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture (no big surprise because chi and meridians do not exist). Nothing can be said about the efficacy of acupuncture because they left this important information out and did not report on it, even though they misleadingly claim acupuncture to be ‘neutral’ (no effect).
And the newspapers?
Most journalists get their information from the university’s press release and this is what the NICM published “Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates”. It is completely wrong, it should have been something like; “Chi and Meridians again shown not to exist and acupuncture might even reduce your chances on IVF success” So, the journalists did not get it wrong per se, they just reported what they were told, which is strange, because any good journalist would surely check their facts before publishing. So, the question now is why did they do it? Why did they move the goal posts? Is it possible that this publication is simply a smokescreen to hide the fact that acupuncture might have a negative impact (nocebo effect) on IVF success rates?
They have omitted it intentionally!
This is now where it gets interesting. Back in 2006 a similar study with 228 participants was published by the same lead author from the NICM where a discussion was included about the reasons why acupuncture (28%) and sham acupuncture (18%) resulted in lower pregnancy rates as compared with the clinic’s baseline pregnancy rate of 30% (primary outcome was pregnancy and not live births). Their current study with 848 participants published in 2018 had even lower pregnancy rates (live birth rates of around 18%) whereas the clinic’s baseline pregnancy rate/live birth rate has in all likelihood improved over the last 12 years (between 25-35%). So, just imagine a newspaper article stating that acupuncture might actually reduce your chances on IVF success. That would be a disaster for these people and the probable reason why they decided to keep quiet about it.
My opinion? The fact that infertility is a highly sensitive issue is simply ignored in order to protect acupuncture, and yes, they will spin this result into some sort of positive sometime in future. They have already started. Now, infertility can lead to broken relations, depression, and in extreme cases even suicide – so it is a very sensitive issue. If there is any suspicion that acupuncture might actually have a negative or even only a neutral influence on IVF then scientists should apply the ‘precautionary principle’ and advise people to stop using it. Promotional scientists on the other hand are well known to throw caution to the wind, and continue to try and convince vulnerable people to use their services or products. This is completely unethical. These people could not care less about the well-being of the public and hence they just dropped this important information from their publication and did not even bother to discuss it, let alone, warn people about it.
Because of the size of this project they were probably forced to publish something and it took this long because they needed to come up with a way that will cause the least amount of damage to acupuncture. That it was published in JAMA is of concern and one can only question how this got pass the peer review process. Maybe the reviewers were so overwhelmed by the fact that these folks are publishing a negative result that they forgot to review the manuscript. (I will follow up on these issues with the editors)
It would however be interesting to see if the acupuncture clinics who donated money to the NICM, such as “The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic” will now put these ‘negative’, albeit misleading, results on their website. But how will they spin it? Acupuncture is their main, if not only, source of income with some of it flowing back to the NICM. (just read their rubbish declaration of interest in the JAMA article to see how they are getting away with it).
Will keep you posted on any further developments, I’m sure there is a lot more to come.
You’re sitting on a beach when suddenly not far from you, you notice a commotion. Your fear is confirmed when you see life guards dashing into the sea and moments later they drag a lifeless body of a young child from the waves. Because the life guards are well trained, they manage to revive the child, resulting in a collective sigh of relief from the gathered crowd. Happy endings like this makes people feel good – it is good news. But this is not where it ends. Suddenly you hear screaming and to your shock you witness something truly amazing. The parents of this boy sprints down the beach, bursts through the crowd, all the while shouting that they will save their child. To your amazement they pull the child, still gasping for air, from the arms of the life guards back into the ocean where they hold his head under water until he drowns!
I don’t know if anything like this has ever happened but I’m almost convinced that the crowd, after recovering from their shock, will most likely attack the parents and more people might die that day.
Now, one of the hallmarks of a fake healthcare system is the fact that just about everything works. Think of rhino horn, acupuncture, homeopathy etc. but also something such as slapping therapy – everything works. Surely, when you allow a practitioner into your clinic to provide people, including children, slapping therapy then you acknowledge that it works? If not, you are intentionally misleading your patients (interesting catch 22). But let me explain the analogy. These parents suffer from a level of delusion that most people simply cannot understand and sadly this type of scenario plays out far more often than most people would like. And if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has its way, these tragedies will increase significantly and it might even become quite common. Take for example the tragic slapping death tragedy.
The poor parents were misled into believing that they can cure their 6yo son from diabetes type 1 by attending an expensive ‘slapping therapy’ workshop in Sydney. The child was taken off his medication (out of professional care) and was slapped (allowing the sea to finish the job) in the believe that this will cure him. It did not, and the child died. The slapping therapist and the parents are now facing court, but this should be seen as treating the symptom while the cause, the people responsible for creating this level of delusion, are continuing to relentlessly disseminate their misinformation regarding ‘integrative medicine’.
The unseen war that’s being fought
To use war terminology might be a bit far-fetched but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. This war is being fought between an army of pseudoscientists (backed by the CCP and others) and a few scientists (backed by, uhm, no one) and it’s about the ‘integration’ of fake medicine and medical procedures with evidence-based healthcare under the umbrella term – ‘Integrative medicine’. For most people, hitting a young defenceless child to such a degree that he dies of his injuries and/or lack of medication, is surely a heinous crime. But others apparently see this practice to be okay, and these deaths should be considered ‘collateral damage’. After all, many innocent people die in warzones, and although undesirable it is an inadvertent consequence of achieving the greater good – to win the war.
Slapping therapy is part of the pseudoscientific Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) industry, and because of the sheer economic size of this industry, the CCP decided to revive it, protect it and promote it nationally but also internationally. Any critique of TCM within China is met with the long arm of the law. Quite recently a Chinese doctor was jailed for three months after he wrote an opinion piece regarding the dangers of a specific TCM remedy. So, TCM is here to stay and is also one way of how the CCP is exerting its influence overseas.
Their current excursion is to steamroll over science (and the few scientists willing to defend it) via some Australian universities (who in turn derives financial benefit) by creating ‘scientific’ legitimacy for TCM and thereby increase their Australian (and western) market penetration. They use the billions of dollars that Australian universities receive from (Chinese) international students as a silent threat in order to keep these universities in check and dancing to their tune. Via some Australian academics they have infiltrated and now have the support of Australian regulators and politicians. All in all, it is going quite well with their plans to internationalise TCM.
The main problem is that they have vast resources which most scientists don’t have. Take for example the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). They’re about 50 people with Western Sydney University (WSU) pumping millions of tax payer dollars into their coffers every year. Controversial companies such as Blackmores also donates millions and much more money is flowing in from China – all of these resources are being used to integrate dis/unproven complementary and alternative medicine, with a specific focus on TCM. For example; the clinic, Tasly Healthpac, that promoted and hosted the slapping therapy workshop was founded and is managed by Dr Ven Tan whereas Prof Alan Bensoussan, director of the NICM, collaborated with Dr Tan to integrate fake healthcare (slapping, acupuncture, TCM etc.). A MoU was signed between Tasly and the NICM in 2011, which states that the NICM will provide “assistance in the development of an Integrative Care Model: to assist the Tasly Healthpac Centre of Excellence in Integrative medicine so that its structure aims to integrate TCM and western medical diagnostics and treatments in an integrated, patient centred way.”
Facing this tsunami of misinformation, and defending the battle front, you have a few lonely scientists. Nobody is pumping millions into warning people about fake healthcare systems, because there is no money to be made from it, and hence with their meagre resources, they simply do it because their conscience demands it.
I have written about the Australian academics who facilitated the CCPs plans to internationalise TCM, mainly by lobbying for the national registration of TCM practitioners, and also about the Australian politicians (former trade minister Andrew Robb and PM Tony Abbott etc.) who were lobbied to include a free flow of TCM practitioners into Australia under the Free Trade Agreement signed in 2015. TCM producers such as Tong Ren Tang were of course elated with this arrangement because “….we will have an increasingly wider road, and open more and more branch stores in Australia.”
In this article I will focus on the role of the former Minister of Health for New South Wales, Ms Jillian Skinner, and her role in this calamity.
The Minister of Health and the tale of two letters
Two letters were send to Min. Skinner, one warning her about integrating TCM (and other disproven and unproven healthcare systems), the other letter promoting TCM. So which one had an impact?
Letter 1: A word of warning
Any health minister would surely understand the dangers in supporting the principles of TCM which is that disease is caused by disturbances in your (pseudoscientific) life force, or Chi, that flows through ‘meridians’. Inserting needles (acupuncture), taking Chinese herbs or slapping yourself all ‘aim’ to influence and/or restore your life force and cure you of whatever ails you. That some herbs might be beneficial is a given but it is because they contain very specific compounds (and very few do) – this has nothing to do with your life force! Supporting the integration of pseudoscientific healthcare with real healthcare is very dangerous as was illustrated by the slapping therapy death. Hence, one might expect that the minister would be accompanying Dr Tan/Prof Bensoussan to the police station, because something like this should surely not be allowed?
To warn the Minister about the NICMs modus operandi I’ve send her a letter and attached a 6000-word document detailing my concerns (a shortened version can be found here). It can be summed up as follow:
The NICM supports and promote any form of complementary, alternative or traditional (CAT) medicine and do not advise the public, as claimed, about the dangers of disproven CAT medicines such as homeopathy, TCM etc. because most of their funding depends mainly on misleading the public.
In my email dated 4 February 2016 I stated that; ‘These concerns are of such a nature that I believe the public is in danger of suffering injury or even death as a result. I have shared my concerns with the NICM management as well as the vice-chancellor of WSU (in June 2015). Needless to say, the WSU management do not share my concerns and hence my urgent call on your office to investigate this matter further.’
One example in my letter, to illustrate the problem, was the NICMs response to the well-known NHMRCs report regarding the ineffectiveness and dangers of homeopathy. It is fascinating how they pumped misinformation, via their partner ‘Complementary Medicines Australia’, into the world. Their response, entitled “The Five Fundamental Flaws of the NHMRCs Homeopathy report” is currently being used by homeopaths around the world to ignore the urgent advice that ‘Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness”. The press release ends with the ‘wise’ words “Homeopathy has been around for hundreds of years, and I am sure will be around a lot longer than some of the critics.”
People, including children, die because of this misinformation. But for some reason the courts only take action when children are involved. Here is another tragic example of a 9-month old baby that died. And just recently the Australian government even ignored the recommendations of a new review and decided that; “Homeopathic products will continue to be sold in Australian pharmacies, despite a long-awaited review warning the government the practice could compromise the health of consumers.” Obviously, their lobbying has been quite successful to date!
But this shows that the NICM and their partners will defend just about any fake ‘medicine’ including TCM because they derive funding from it. This cunning ability to mislead the public, regulators and politicians was at least rewarded with the Bent Spoon award for quackery in 2017 – for what it’s worth.
Letter 2: A letter with impact
The NICMs job regarding TCM is to open the floodgates into Australia (and the world), but to do this they need the support from Australian politicians and hence, Alan and people like Marcus Blackmore (CEO of Blackmores), endlessly lobby politicians (you can read about this here). Here you can find one such letter (May 2014) written by the NICM and send to Min. Skinner. This letter contains the predictable praises of the integrative medicine industry, the ‘importance’ of integrating CAT with conventional healthcare, and the world class standards of the NICM etc. but there is one sentence that stands out above the rest. And this is what it’s all about;
“….NICM needs this positioning if it is to help consumers and health professionals choose safe and effective complementary medicine (and discard ineffective treatments)…”
If you consider the fact that they were involved with the slapping therapy workshop (people died), their response to the NHMRC Homeopathy report (people died), and even that one of their business partners were send to jail after being caught importing rhino horn into Australia (endangered animals died) – all of the above are ineffective remedies or treatments and therefore this sentence is not misleading, it is a blatant lie.
The slapping therapy death occurred in April 2015, and although I noticed it in the newspaper at the time, I was not aware that the NICM was intricately involved (I was actually quite busy trying to get out of there). What came as a shock a couple of years later was when I accidentally came across a travel itinerary of Min Skinner. It turns out that she invited Dr Tan and Prof Bensoussan to accompany her, not to a police station, but to China in April 2016, barely 2 months after I’ve send my letter to her office. The reason for this trip was to garner support for their plans to integrate TCM with conventional healthcare in Australia. To quote from her travel itinerary “To assist the University of Western Sydney’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) secure investor and donor support for the NICM’s integrative Chinese medicine facility medicine/treatment on the Westmead Campus and related complementary medicine research initiatives.”
Their trip to China also caught the attention of the media because she decided that integrating quackery was more important than solving real health problems in Australia. “Ms Skinner defended the trip, taken with NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant, saying it led to an agreement between Westmead Hospital and Shandong’s Qilu Hospital designed to enhance … understanding of traditional Chinese medicine” and “The MOU will establish formal links between Westmead Hospital and Shandong’s Qilu Hospital and is designed to enhance NSW’s understanding of traditional Chinese medicine.”
But here is a fun fact. Close to 100% of clinical trials on TCM conducted in China gives positive results, coupled to the fact that any scientific criticism of TCM can see you get jailed, then surely, the minister must know that they are dealing with a fake healthcare system? Apparently not, or they just ignore the obvious because the potential economic stimulus seemingly overrides the political risks associated with causing a number of preventable deaths. It is a scary thought that former Min Skinner now serves as a director at the Children’s Cancer Institute (I requested her contact details from the institute in order to give her the opportunity to respond but no response was received thus far.)
But did the NICM break the law?
Min. Skinner eventually responded (Nov 2016) but then only by referring me to the Federal Minister of Health, Sussan Ley (who also resigned around this time), but by then the damage was already done. Clearly, the NICM managed to get funding from China because they will be moving into their new TCM hospital pretty soon. This hospital will be co-occupied (and managed) by the CCP linked Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM). In their document ‘some brief notes regarding the BUCM collaboration’ they state; “It represents an unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of Chinese medicine in Australia, including the development of the Chinese medicine market in the West; promoting Chinese heritage and culture; and integrating Chinese medicine with the Australian healthcare system.”
But did they do anything illegal? I am no expert in the law but I believe that providing misleading and/or false information to ministers, who then based on this promote the integration of ineffective healthcare might indeed break the law – especially when this result in the death of members of the public. Did they provide former Trade Minister Andrew Robb (discussed here) and Min Skinner with correct and unbiased info about what TCM is? Well, their letter tells me that they did not. As far as I can tell, neither of these former ministers have a background in science, and as such, can easily be misled when it comes to complex scientific issues. But then again, you need to be receptive to these ideas and propaganda, because at the end of the day they signed off on it.
I sometimes just wonder where all of this will end. If organisations such as the NICM (they are not the only ones) are not reeled in now, how will the Australian (or western) healthcare system look like in 10-20 years’ time? They are masters of deceit with a clear intention to mislead the public for the sake of making money. For example; their new TCM ‘hospital’ in Westmead will not be called exactly that, they have chosen a much more mundane and misleading name; ‘Western Sydney Integrative Health Centre’ – it will fool many, because it is right next to the southern hemispheres’ biggest health complex and it is backed by a Australian university to give it even more credibility.
I used the phrase ‘China Power and Influence’ in this article as well as in two previous articles that you can find here and here. But this is only one side of the bigger picture because most people are well aware that China, as an upcoming super-power, wants to exert its influence in various ways in various countries. But I do hope that I’ve managed to highlight that TCM is also part of this and as such, a threat, not only to the health of people, but also wildlife. The reasons why China included TCM in their plans are probably complex and likely multifactorial and I will attempt to deal with this question in a next article.
But the main message that I wanted to get across is that although China is the source of TCM, and hence the problem, any country can quite easily recognise it as such and say; ‘no thank you, we will stick with modern evidence-based healthcare, but will gladly collaborate with you in other areas.’ This has not happened in Australia. And this is the message. There are Australian citizens in positions of power who has gone out of their way to legitimise and normalise TCM in Australia and hence aided the CCP in executing their plans for the sake of, mainly money. Some people are capable of doing strange things for money and some even have the ability to completely switch off their conscience.
All of this is now playing out in Australia (where and how it will end is anyone’s guess), but will this be all that different than what is happening regarding TCM in other western countries? I fear not.
(This article was first published on the website of Prof Edzard Ernst. You can find the original article here)
In part 1 I’ve shown that a number of key Australian ‘academics’ (Proff Alan Bensoussan, Charlie Xue etc.) made it extremely easy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to achieve their goal of internationalising TCM. Prof Bensoussan (an acupuncturist) has managed to achieve statutory regulation for TCM practitioners in 2012, elevating TCM to the same level as conventional healthcare. He used this ‘achievement’ to successfully lobby for TCM’s inclusion in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and China.. To lobby is one thing, but to do so successfully, you need receptive high level politicians in order to achieve your objectives. This article will highlight the involvement of various politicians, but also the regulators, and how Prof Bensoussan managed to get their support. (The ‘controversial’ book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ by Prof Clive Hamilton is also worth a read)
The ‘Four Corners’ investigation
An investigation by the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ exposed the CCP’s secret networks in Australia. They disclosed that certain Chinese billionaires with links to the CCP, donated substantial amounts of money to various political parties. This led to some politicians changing their views, quite notably Mr Sam Dastyari, against party line on Australian foreign policy – specifically regarding the South China sea melting pot (new recordings was revealed today). In light of these revelations a senator stepped down, or is about to step down, but it also elicited a scathing response from the former premier of NSW, Bob Carr. He tried to downplay this, in his view, ‘perceived’ Chinese influence and argued that this might instead be a golden opportunity for Australia. Problem is that; “Bob Carr is the director of the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney. ACRI was setup with a $1.8m donation from Xiangmo Huang who is one of the two Chinese donors who were the subject of the Four Corners expose Bob Carr seeks to downplay in this article.”
Mr Xiangmo Huang and Mr Chau Chak Wing, named in the Four Corners investigation, have also been pumping millions of dollars into some Australian universities, quite notably Western Sydney University (WSU), University of Technology Sydney (UTS – Bob Carr heads the ACRI at UTS), and to some degree, RMIT university. It therefore stands to reason that the CCP also wants to exert an influence on the Australian academic and healthcare systems. Part of this influence involves the internationalisation of an ancient pseudoscientific and mainly ineffective healthcare system, known as TCM. TCM is not an evidence-based healthcare system, but is nonetheless a very large and lucrative industry ($170 billion).
By using internationally accepted scientific methods will lead to a reduction in the total number of TCM treatments, currently estimated at 13 000, to only a handful. Hence, the big money is in the ‘magic’ (or mysticism) in which all 13 000 treatments remains effective. A public belief in this magic has therefore to be nurtured, which will lead to widespread acceptance of TCM in Australia and expansion of the industry via Australia. Take the magic away (by applying science) and the whole industry will collapse – and this is not what the CCP nor Prof Bensoussan wants. Part of getting the job done is to target Australian politicians for support of TCM, and as such, why not start with the man with the top job? (for background information part 1 should be read and more information regarding TCM can be found here and here).
Mr Tony Abbott (former Prime Mister & Minister of Health)
Quite recently Mr Tony Abbott attended “the launch of Chinese-born businessman Tao Li’s sheep placenta enriched skincare cream, Chantelle. On stage, Mr Abbott spoke of his longstanding support for the Chinese community and business in Australia, as he spruiked the merits of initiatives such as the China-Australia free-trade agreement…..” Clearly Mr Abbott has a thing for the strange and weird and does not seem to hold science, or consumer protection, in high esteem. But let’s have a closer look at Mr Abbott’s role in TCM.
In 2007, the then Minister of Health, Mr Abbott, was approached by a TCM practitioner proclaiming that he needs $4 million in order to provide the Australian public with the ‘correct’ information regarding TCM and complementary medicines in general. Mr Abbott ignored the fact that TCM is a dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare system, and that its practitioners will always promote all of it, because their livelihoods depend on it.
Unfortunately, Mr Abbott did not show him the door, no, he decided to place his trust in an acupuncturist (Prof Bensoussan) and handed him a $4 million cheque. This money was used as seed funding for the NICM. Regular readers will know that the NICM accepts money from homeopaths, acupuncturists, energy healers etc. and in exchange they use their university setting (Western Sydney University – WSU) to provide credibility and unbridled support for these thoroughly debunked complementary medicines (this is also the reason why the NICM won the Bent Spoon award in 2017.)
A tumultuous political period propelled Mr Abbott into the PM seat. It started when PM Kevin Rudd was stabbed in the back (2010) by his deputy, Julia Gillard, who became the first female PM. She was dethroned by Mr Rudd in 2013, who promptly lost the elections a couple of months later to Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott was in turn stabbed in the back by Mr Turnbull in 2015. Five PM’s in five years, and although quite entertaining, an excellent opportunity for foreign powers to try and exert their influence during such a period of instability. So, while the politicians were grabbling to try and stay in power and solving artificial first world problems, the CCP steadily exerted its influence with Prof Bensoussan taking his chances when Mr Abbott became PM in 2013.
Mr Abbott appointed Mr Andrew Robb as minister of Trade in 2013, and tasked him with getting the FTA done and dusted. Having a PM who is clearly in favour of ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM, it should come as no surprise that Mr Robb accepted Prof Bensoussan’s word and included TCM in the FTA (more about Mr Robb a bit later on). After signing the FTA, Mr Abbott also publicly defended part of the deal, which states that; ‘up to 1800 visas for Chinese service suppliers to enter Australia for up to 4 years, the visas will be for Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, Chinese chefs, and Chinese Language coaches.’ Mr Abbott also send a congratulatory note to WSU when the NICM opened a Chinese Medicine Centre in 2016, with their objective being; “….spreading Chinese medicine further to the world.”
Although all four PM’s had contact with Mr Huang Xiangmo, quite recently (June 2017) it came to light that Mr Abbott has been warned in 2015 by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about the possible influence that the CCP wants to exert; “A key political fundraiser for former prime minister Tony Abbott has maintained contact with Chinese Communist Party-aligned businessman Huang Xiangmo, despite warnings from ASIO to Mr Abbott about the billionaire donor. In 2015, Mr Abbott was briefed by ASIO chief Duncan Lewis about the agency’s concerns that Mr Huang’s close ties with the Chinese Communist Party might mean his donations could be used to advance Beijing’s interests.”
Internationalisation of TCM is of interest to the CCP and Prof Bensoussan, and I would suggest that the CCP was quite successful in achieving this objective in Australia! More information regarding Mr Huang Xiangmo and his involvement with TCM can be found in part 1.
But what about the current PM, Mr Malcolm Turnbull?
Well, what can I say. He promotes TCM by using it! Mr Turnbull publicly claimed that a TCM practitioner ‘helped’ him to lose weight. It becomes ridiculous when you look at the TCM treatment itself. It included Chinese herbal tea (price tag $5000) and, wait for it, fasting! I am not sure why, but I do feel the need to explain this phenomena for the uninformed (including some PMs). Whenyou fast, you lose weight! The herbs and abdominal acupuncture has nothing to do with it!
This is an excellent example of how these pseudoscientists operate. They give good advice (balanced diet, exercise etc. which every GP will also give you) and then they claim that TCM is (partly) responsible for the observed effect. This is what they want you to think. And, of course, they want you to market their treatments by word of mouth, especially when you are the PM. It is a pity that an influential person such as Mr Turnbull can be hoodwinked this easily. After his endorsement of TCM, this particular practitioner is making a lot of money and is opening more TCM clinics in Australia where he treats anything from toothache to cancer. I fear that by providing his endorsement the PM has inadvertently signed the death warrant for people who suffer from serious medical conditions who might now decide, based on the PMs word, to give TCM a go instead of evidence-based treatments. (In 2017, this practitioner was found guilty of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” in an unrelated case.)
So, we have two PMs who is clearly pro-TCM. This, of course, makes life for the CCP and people such as Prof Bensoussan a lot easier.
The Minister of Trade, Mr Andrew Robb
As mentioned before, a key person in the FTA was the Trade minister, Mr Andrew Robb. He encouraged states and territories to sell and lease their assets, and also defended the lease of Port Darwin to the Chinese company, ‘Landbridge’. It did raise a number of eyebrows when Mr Robb resigned from politics shortly afterwards in favour of; “the $73,000-a-month retainer that former federal trade minister Andrew Robb has snaffled from the well-connected Chinese billionaire who bought the Port of Darwin.” Although within the rules, Mr Robb should definitely not expect a ‘Australian of the Year’ nomination anytime soon. Mr Robb was however a primary target for Prof Bensoussan.
A document was prepared by Prof Bensoussan for Marcus Blackmore, the founder of the controversial supplement company Blackmores. This document contains a list of Australian politicians who they should lobby together in order to get political support for ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM. China is a very big export market for companies such as Blackmores, hence their collaboration with the NICM with their high profile Chinese connections (Blackmores recently donated $10 million to the NICM to assist in ‘integrating’ ineffective treatments (incl. TCM) with effective treatments.) The two excerpts below make it clear that the NICM lobbied Austrade (Mr Robb) to include TCM in the FTA.
“Australia is currently working on a free trade agreement with China. On this basis Alan has held high level meetings with potential commercial partners in China. China has pushed for the free flow of practitioners between Australia and China however, it is not likely they will get a free flow of products through. Alan has spoken to the VC and Hugh Funder from Austrade about regulations pertaining to a strong R&D platform under the free trade agreement. China has asked for a separate agreement to articulate the R&D platform. Andrew Robb is assisting NICM to pursue free trade with the support of the VC” (Sept 2014)
“The aim is to find a commercial partner or first choice commercial partner that will actively invest in NICM’s scaling up, through the development of a commercial platform for introducing Chinese medicine to western markets. Talks have been held with Austrade about the support they can provide in building a strong R&D platform with Chinese collaborators, including the possibility of progressing this as part of the Australia – China free trade agreement negotiations.” (Oct 2014)
It is no secret that China wants a free flow of TCM (practitioners and products) into Australia in order to expand their $170 billion TCM industry. Alan’s lobbying has paid off and Andrew Robb has written a letter to the Chinese Minister of Commerce which made Australia’s commitment to trade in TCM and complementary medicines very clear. A win-win for the bottom line of Chinese and Australian companies (such as Blackmores hence their partnership with the NICM), but a major step backwards for science, scientific education and research, and importantly, the health of the general public (I have recently emailed Mr Robb enquiring about TCM and if he was made aware by the NICM regarding the many dangers involved. A response was received from a secretary indicating that he retired from politics and that I should contact Austrade – a dead end I guess).
Promotion of TCM by other Australian politicians
Here is a media release by the then minister of education, Christopher Payne, heaping his praises on the NICM and the inclusion of TCM into the FTA, stating that; “Benefits to flow from the partnership include a new research-led Chinese medicine clinic in Sydney, better patient outcomes and the potential for Australia to tap into the $170 billion global traditional Chinese medicine market.” Here is a very interesting Hansard of the House of Representatives (Feb 2015 – pages 142-147) where a number of politicians – Mr Matheson (MacArthur), Mr Jones (Throsby), Mr Alexander (Bennelong), Mr Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith), Ms Scott (Lindsay), Mr Hayes (Fowler) – provides a very positive but one-sided view on the inclusion of TCM into the FTA.
It boils down to this; the NICM is excellent, TCM is the next big thing in healthcare, and we all stand to make a lot of money. The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective, and therefore quite dangerous, does not seem to bother anyone, or at least, not a single politician understands the necessity to run this pass a couple of scientists first. And this can only mean one thing. All of these politicians have been spoon-fed with this misleading information, and now they pat each other on the back, and regurgitate this in front of a pro-TCM PM.
The Hansard makes it clear that the CCP will give (or has given) $20 million, via the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, to the NICM in order for them to establish a joined commercial TCM ‘hospital’ in Sydney (they call it a clinic but it will be much more like a hospital if they get their way). The CCP therefore already has a strong foothold in the Australian healthcare system from where further incursions will probably take place. Clues as to what the CCP wants to achieve can be found in China itself; ‘In July a law came into effect that requires local governments to open TCM departments in all general hospitals, and to give “equal emphasis” to TCM and what China calls Western medicine.’ With this kind of political support and with Prof Bensoussan as the main driving force in Australia this definitely does not bode well!
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
To have political support is always good but you also need the regulators on your side. Because Prof Bensoussan knows that TCM is mainly ineffective, he also knows that there will be a couple of hurdles to overcome. One of these hurdles is the regulators, in Australia, the TGA. To overcome this hurdle for the CCP and the TCM industry, a MOU was signed between the NICM and one of the biggest TCM producers in China, ‘Tong Rang Ten’ (Oct 2015). The focus of this MOU is on how the NICM will assist the company to get their products through the registration process in Australia.
To achieve all of this, Prof Bensoussan has been exerting his extensive influence at the TGA where he served for more than 10 years on the TGA’s ‘Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines.’ He even acted as Chair on this committee for a number of years. Companies such as Tong Rang Ten is of course elated by Prof Bensoussan’s assistance and his hard work in getting TCM into the FTA, and through the regulators, stating;
“I think with the implementation of the [FTA] agreement, many medicines, especially some important herbs, good-quality herbs, and those written in the Chinese herbal dictionary, will be approved by the Australian medicine authorities. As a result, we will have an increasingly wider road, and open more and more branch stores in Australia.”
Prof Bensoussan was instrumental in misleading the TGA into accepting a ‘long tradition of use’ as a measure of safety (effectiveness seemingly does not matter). The results speak for itself with the TGA now excepting around 140 fake or pseudoscientific TCM ‘indications’ such as; “Harmonise middle burner (Spleen and Stomach)”, “Unblock/open/relax meridians”, “Balance Yin and Yang”. If these draft indications are approved, you will be able to go to a pharmacy if you feel that your ‘meridians’ are blocked.
TCM is based on pseudoscientific principles, where no accurate diagnosis can be performed coupled with ineffective/dangerous treatments. It is such a pity that the leaders in society cannot come the this really simple conclusion and that the money aspect seems to blind them from the very obvious.
Most of the politicians named in this article has had links to Mr Huang Xiangmo, who in turn has links with the CCP. He has been pumping millions into Australian universities where Prof Bensoussan again acted as the man in the middle. It should be clear that this money has been influential regarding the promotion and growing acceptance of TCM in Australia. But what is fascinating is that the media seems to be reluctant to delve into this issue. I am no Trump supporter but one of the reasons might be that the media is not always as independent as claimed – they also have vested interests. For example. The ABC accepted an unknown amount of money from the controversial supplement company Swisse and in return Swisse gets; “exclusive advertising rights to reach 190 million people across Asia who can access online and television channels broadcast by Australia Plus.” Trade in Australian complementary medicines with China is also part of the FTA.
But I have to extend an olive branch to the politicians named in this article. No person can have expert knowledge of everything from medicine to global warning. You need expert advisors to fill the gap. The heart of the problem is when universities such as WSU hire pseudoscientists such as Prof Bensoussan. He now becomes an expert advisor and provide misleading information to just about everyone, including politicians. Sure, these politicians also have the responsibility to double check the information, but at the end of the day the blame should be on WSU for allowing this to happen (I have been warning them about this for almost 4 years now).
There is still some crucial information that is missing. What did the NICM tell all of these politicians in order for them to happily sign off on TCM? Mr Robb unfortunately does not want to reveal anything, but I do have some interesting information that was send to the former NSW minister of health, Jillian Skinner. In Part 3 I will describe this information which was, in all likelihood, also send to the politicians mentioned in this current article.
It is in effect a ‘tale of two letters’ with one letter warning the minister about the dangers of TCM (and the NICM’s modus operandi) whilst the second letter, written by the NICM, promoting TCM. No prizes for guessing which letter was the most convincing. In 2016 she was on her way to China accompanied by Prof Bensoussan and Dr Ven Tan (TCM practitioner and founder of Tasly Healthpac where the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death occurred) to help Prof Bensoussan in lobbying for funding of his, and the CCP’s, big plans for TCM in Australia.
Is the Chinese Communist party currently exerting an influence on the Australian healthcare system? If so, how did they manage to get a foot in the door? Let’s have a look!
A recent investigation by the award winning investigative journalism program, ‘Four Corners’, revealed that Chinese billionaires, with links to the Chinese communist party, have made substantial donations to various Australian politicians. Donations usually come with strings attached, and hence, there is some anxiety that this could have an impact on the Australian autonomy and international relations with historic partners (similar to Russia’s meddling with the US elections). The program also featured China’s influence at various academic campuses across Australia.
This prompted me to conduct my own investigation focusing on China’s influence, via these Chinese billionaires, on the Australian healthcare system. It is well known that China wants to internationalise their ancient, ineffective and dangerous traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Australia could have, for example, decided to play a leading role and aid China in modernising their healthcare system in exchange for improved free trade arrangements – or anything that could have been mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, a couple of Australian academics decided otherwise and made it extremely easy for China to obtain a strong foothold, with their TCM, in the Australian healthcare system.
This article will detail specifics regarding how these academics managed to get the job done, whilst a second article will describe how specific Australian politicians made all of this a walk in the park for China (all supporting documentation is available on request). Please skip the next section if you understand TCM, but for those who don’t, below is some background information.
What is TCM and why is it so dangerous?
Imagine a healthcare system where no disease can be diagnosed and where the treatments on offer are mainly ineffective, while some are even outright dangerous. This is TCM in a nutshell; misdiagnosis by default and ineffective/dangerous treatments. It is no wonder that many scientists are extremely concerned about the promotion and legitimisation, especially via universities, of TCM in Australia and around the world. A recent article in the Economist sums it up well; “State-sponsored quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos”
To understand the issue at hand, here is one example;
The TCM nature of rhino horn is “salty, sour and cold” and hence its actions are to “clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying.” Rhino horn is therefore a treatment for “high fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.” (rhino horn is in fact being promoted as medicine at Western Sydney University, but I believe for dementia. One of their collaborators was even sent to prison for importing rhino horn into Australia).
Some of these above mentioned conditions can be life-threatening, if left untreated. Because everybody knows that rhino horn is not an effective medicine for anything, prescribing and using it as a medicine, is equivalent to providing no treatment for these conditions. And this is indeed why TCM is dangerous for people, not even to speak about the needless slaughter of rhinos.
In TCM, disease is seen as an imbalance of a non-existent life-force (Chi) that flows through non-existent meridians, and in this pre-scientific world, bacteria, viruses, etc. do not exist. By slapping yourself, or inserting needles (acupuncture), or taking herbs, or animal matter, your Chi will be ‘restored’ and you will be ‘cured’ of whatever ailment you might suffer from. Because TCM is a believe-based system, every treatment (and there are thousands) is believed to be effective for its intended purpose. This becomes very dangerous when this believe is so strong that they will advise patients to stop their conventional treatments, and rely solely on TCM. That this danger is real, was recently illustrated by the tragic death of a 6yo boy suffering from type-1 diabetes.
The fact that some herbs (very few) do contain beneficial compounds is, in effect, negated by the fact that TCM practitioners cannot correctly diagnose any medical condition. To try and ‘solve’ this problem, they will therefore prescribe a combination of up to 20 different herbs, because by doing this, it improves their chances of getting lucky! Most TCM proponents are fully aware of these problems, and therefore their current approach is to ‘integrate’ all of TCM with conventional diagnostics and treatments. They do this in order to continue to make money but also to promote TCM as ‘effective’ by piggy-backing on the successes of evidence-based modern healthcare.
So, yes, it is all about money with China trying to expand its $170 billion TCM industry by legitimising it in other countries. In Australia it turned out to be a very easy task, just ask the four blokes in the photo below. They have been warned, repeatedly, about the dangers of TCM, but apparently the big motivator, money, speaks louder than words. So, this is where the Australian academics comes into play (more info regarding TCM can be found here and here).
The Australian academics
One of the key players in Australia is Prof Alan Bensoussan, Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Western Sydney University (WSU). He completed a degree in physics and then, for some unknown reason, decided to continue with TCM. He studied at the Nanjing University of TCM in 1985/86, and this is where he was ‘converted’ or ‘recruited’ by the Chinese communist party. And because Alan, like most people, cannot admit to have made a mistake, decided to continue down this path of pseudoscience. Once you are trapped, you are in it for life. And not only that, he became one of the biggest lobbyists of TCM in Australia. This is, of course, one way of ignoring your mistakes – you stubbornly continue to tell yourself, and everybody else, that you are right, even in the face of the most compelling scientific evidence! For Alan, TCM is an effective and safe healthcare system! Unfortunately, after 30 years of trying, he is not able to show that science was wrong about TCM, and hence, he still does not have anything to show for it (without cheating and misleading, that is).
But whatever happened, he became one of the biggest drivers of TCM in Australia. Since his return from China he has worked tirelessly to legitimise TCM with his main approach being; that the safety of patients will be assured by regulating TCM, and, that TCM should be ‘integrated’ within conventional healthcare. The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective and by regulating fake medicine, it can only lead to well-regulated fake medicine, didn’t bother him – it simply doesn’t fit his delusion. Intense lobbying for many years resulted in TCM becoming a registered healthcare profession in Victoria in 2000, and Australia wide in 2012. Being ‘registered’, in this case, simply means that you must have a ‘real’ degree in fake medicine before you can practice fake medicine – how this will assure the safety of patients is beyond me! This was, however, a crucial turning point. Registering TCM as a ‘healthcare profession’ gave it an Australian government stamp of approval, and after this victory for TCM, everything went into top gear. Alan received a prestigious award for his intense lobbying in 2013 in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing China. This award was also celebrated at WSU and was attended by Eric Roozendaal, CEO of the Yuhu group (more about the YuHu group a bit later on).
Other prominent Australian academics are Prof Charlie Xue from RMIT university who runs an accredited (again a government stamp of approval!) course in TCM and chairs the ‘Chinese Medicine Board of Australia’. He is therefore in charge of registering TCM practitioners, and he has also received millions from China to promote TCM in Australia (see under current grants). The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) also provides accredited courses in TCM and has accepted millions in gifts from Chinese businessmen – donations and gifts always comes with strings attached.
The Chinese businessman
The Yuhu group is owned by Chinese billionaire, Huang Xiangmo, who featured prominently in the ABC’s Four Corners investigation. Huang Xiangmo is the president of the ‘Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China’ – an organisation considered to be the vanguard of lobbying for the Chinese communist party in Australia. It turns out that they do not only influence Australian politics, but also the healthcare system. The Yuhu group has ‘committed’ a $10 million donation to Alan Bensoussan for the internationalisation of TCM in Australia. This large donation was eventually withdrawn by Yuhu, due to WSU’s inability to get the necessary paper work done in time (maybe too many bureaucrats working at WSU?). Huang Xiangmo did eventually donate $3.5 million, to establish the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at WSU. Alan is named as a key researcher which demonstrates that TCM is considered to be part of Chinese ‘arts and culture’ and not an evidence-based healthcare system.
In the NICMs latest newsletter (under ‘Message from Director’) they thank their generous sponsors, which includes Josephine and Gary Lam. Unfortunately the value of these donations are not publicly available, but, Josephine Lam has donated substantial amounts of money to WSU/NICM before. She is also currently acting as a ‘specialist advisor‘ to the Vice Chancellor, Barney Glover (he has also accompanied Alan to China to lobby for support of their Australian TCM facilities). The Lam’s are part of the ‘Australian China Economic, Trade and Culture Association’, with Gary Lam being the Chairman and Josephine a Honorary Advisor. Huang Xiangmo, of the Yuhu group is also a patron of this organisation.
Dr Ven Tan, who is the ‘Standing Deputy Chairman’ in this organisation, and the founder of ‘Tasly Healthpac’ is an important role player, claiming that; ‘Through his own practice he has come to realize the limitation of conventional Western medicine and to worship the merit of Traditional Chinese Medicine’. The photo below depicts the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Chinese and Australian governments ‘aimed at promoting TCM in Australia through a collaborative initiative’. (Alan Bensoussan is on the far left and Ven Tan third from the left.) So, again we have a Chinese ‘cultural’ organisation that wants to promote TCM in Australia.
Another separate MoU was signed between Tasly and the NICM (Alan Bensoussan is the director of the NICM) in 2011, which states that the NICM will provide “assistance in the development of an Integrative Care Model: to assist the Tasly Healthpac Centre of Excellence in Integrative medicine so that its structure aims to integrate TCM and western medical diagnostics and treatments in an integrated, patient centred way.” Some might now recall that the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death of a 6yo boy recently occurred at Tasly Healthpac. This illustrates what happens when your objective is to ‘integrate’ fake treatments with evidence-based treatments.
The NICM’s gifts register indicates that a huge amount of effort goes into cosying up to Chinese politicians, businessmen and (TCM) academics. There are documents demonstrating that they are actively targeting and engaging with specific Chinese businessman (Huang Xiangmo, Chau Chak Wing, etc) known to have links with the Chinese communist party. WSU even planned to provide scholarships to the children of Chinese consular staff members. The response from the Chinese consulate was, of course, a very big thank you to Alan Bensoussan and Barney Glover, for their hard work in legitimising TCM in Australia. To think that all their visits to China, the hosting of Chinese delegates, the huge amount of time it takes to lobby all of these role-players (in China and Australia), even the gifts are partially paid for by the Australian public. So, what do the Australian public get in return for their investment? The promotion and integration of a dangerous fake healthcare system. And this brings me to the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.
Australia-China Free Trade Agreement
Alan has managed to get TCM included at the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and China (called a ‘tragedy‘ by an eminent Australian scientist – I tend to agree!). This inclusion will allow WSU and the Chinese government managed ‘Beijing University of Chinese Medicine’ (BUCM), to be used as vehicles for the communist party’s agenda to exert its influence via TCM on the Australian healthcare system. And all of this facilitated by Alan for which he is handsomely rewarded by the Chinese government. The inclusion of TCM in the FTA has paid off, and has resulted in a TCM hospital that is currently being established in Westmead, Sydney – opening in 2018. The BUCM will operate this ‘integrative’ TCM facility and it will be based on a similar 80-bed hospital which the BUCM is already operating in Germany. According to documents, this facility will be commercial (run by the BUCM) and the NICM will co-occupy this space to further their (or the Chinese communists party’s) agenda regarding the continued legitimisation and internationalisation of TCM.
In short; Alan Bensoussan, Barney Glover, and others, are colluding with the Chinese communist party, and as such, is making it extremely easy for them to exert their (not so soft) power in Australia. TCM is part and parcel of the international influence that China wants to exert. It is unfortunate that China, who has made rapid advances in science and technology, decided to stick with TCM and not on collaboration with Australia regarding modern evidence-based healthcare. It is even more unfortunate that these Australian universities decided to sell their souls for the sake of Chinese money. The $170 billion TCM industry therefore seems to be the main motivator for both WSU and the Chinese government and not improved health outcomes for Australians. The saying ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’ comes to mind, and I have to ask; where will it all end?
It is interesting to note that serious medical conditions e.g. cancer, are being targeted by the NICM in order to legitimise ineffective TCM. In the NICMs own words “… the press/media would be reluctant to take a negative line on initiatives that are targeted at oncology…” This sentence says it all.
My next article will provide more details on the FTA and the Australian politicians (especially Andrew Robb and Jullian Skinner) who were successfully lobbied by Alan, and who made all of this possible. All this information has been sent to WSU, about 2 months ago, but as usual, there seems to be no interest in the adverse impact that their actions will have on science, on education and on the health of the public (and the poor rhinos, of course).
(The ‘controversial’ book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ by Prof Clive Hamilton is also worth a read)
And we thought that the ‘Hogwarts School of Magic’ only existed on the big screen. But, this type of school is actually real. There are quite a number of them currently operating in Australia, where bright-eyed, impressionable teenagers are taught how to manipulate energy fields in order to banish ‘evil spirits’ (or disease), and how to elevate out of their despondent earthly existence into an enchanted state of eternal health and happiness – like flying for the first time on a broomstick (or smoking a joint). It will therefore come as no surprise, that the game of Quidditch, from the Harry Potter movies, is indeed being played at some of these modern schools of magic. The Tri-wizard cup was even won by Western Sydney University in 2013. A real-life fantasy world.
(Quiddich players ‘flying’ in attack formation on their Nimbus 2000 broomsticks)
But there is a problem!
To run around on a field with a broomstick between your legs is, I guess, okay, and not strange at all. It is good exercise, but you are not suddenly going to take off (at least not without a joint), because ‘strangely’ enough this only happens in the movies (or if you are completely stoned). So, for the rest of it, none of it is real – it is all a hoax. And this is now problematic, because all parents would agree that we want the best education for our children. But this is also where we tend to stop our involvement and we do not always ask the important question of; what is actually being taught at these schools? There are many reasons for this, one of them being that we tend to trust that government will protect us from fraudsters. So, when these schools are government funded and regulated, and especially, when they provide them with a stamp of approval via various accreditation schemes, this is usually enough to put our minds at ease – we trust the system!
Unfortunately, some of these schools provide government accredited courses in magic. For example; children are being taught to manipulate ‘energy’, yes, without a wand (although I am not always so sure), but with the use of needles, crystals and various herbs such as the screaming mandrake (oh no wait, that was in the movie).
Specific examples of these courses include; Bachelor in Chinese medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy at RMIT University, Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy – includes homeopathy) at Endeavour College, Bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine at Western Sydney University and Bachelor of Health Science in traditional Chinese medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. The Southern School of Natural Therapies explains that their accredited course in Chinese Medicine; “is an ancient, holistic form of medicine that connects the mind, body, spirit. Chinese medicine believes that the body is made up of Qi – energy which permeates the whole body and flows through our meridians. Chinese medicine aims to stimulate the meridians, producing effects on different organs and systems within the body to restore balance and harmony” – this is pure magic!
This is what our kids are being taught at these schools, and unfortunately, this is pure fantasy because this ‘energy’, which is at the foundation of all of these pseudoscientific healthcare systems, simply do not exist. But, this ‘energy’ do indeed attract large numbers of students, because all of us are fascinated by magic. Regrettably, those students who actually believe in the magic show, tends to pay a significant amount of money to learn ‘magic’, and once they realise that it’s an elaborate government supported hoax, many simply tend to continue practicing magic. Because, by now, they have incurred a lot of debt, they have lost a lot of time, and they don’t want to be branded a drop-out or loser (sure, there will also be true believers amongst them). Hence, the problem of modern day ‘medical magicians’ will continue to be with us and might even surge, if the government continue to legitimise it via their various accreditation schemes.
And this brings me to accreditation, which is arguably a big part of the problem. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently invited submissions for their “Independent Review of Accreditation Systems within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions”. The ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ (FSM) organisation did submit a detailed report highlighting their many concerns when accreditation is given to these schools of magic. This report was unfortunately deemed ‘out of scope’ by the COAG Health Council which implies that they are quite happy to continue to mislead students and their parents (and this can destroy families), as well as the patients who are on the receiving end of these completely ineffective magical treatments. Many patients do indeed get hurt and some even die, as was tragically illustrated by a practitioner whose magical ‘Slapping Therapy’ did not cure a 6yo boy from his type-1 diabetes.
Below you will find the Executive Summary of FSMs submission (with permission), and here you can find the full submission. But the question remains; why do the government continue to bestow undue credibility and continue to legitimise ‘medical magic’ by providing accreditation to these courses in Australia?
Accreditation is antecedent to, and inextricably bound together with, practitioner registration. This submission raises concerns about registered alternative medicine (AltMed) practitioners, accusing the present accreditation system of failing to protect the public through its legitimising poor quality, belief-based, rather than evidence-based, education and on-going training of chiropractors, osteopaths and Chinese medicine/acupuncturists.
FSM is aware that some higher education institutes and continuing professional development courses give credibility to pseudoscience. Examples of pseudoscience include chiropractic (subluxation theory, Kinesiology, Retained Neonatal Reflex and Webster Technique, osteopathy (Osteopathy of the Cranial Field and Visceral Manipulation) and Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and the teaching of “Qi”, energy blockages that cause disease, as a fact).
FSM also remains concerned with the accreditation process supervised by AHPRA and its Boards.
FSM alleges that:
A. the training of registered AltMed practitioners:
is of low quality;
is based on pseudo-scientific concepts that reject germ theory as the cause of disease;
teach invalid diagnostic technique;
includes potentially dangerous interventions, continued in the ongoing training of practitioners;
wastes considerable public funding allocated to universities which teach these unscientific courses; and
compromises our universities’ reputation within Australia and internationally.
B. thousands of false and misleading claims on AltMed websites breach the National Law. This report demonstrates that registered AltMed practitioners:
are poorly trained;
are not competent to treat patients;
delay correct diagnosis and evidence-based therapies thereby allowing progression of disorders;
may cause harm;
waste millions of health dollars;
undermine the efforts of evidence-based practitioners in their communities;
do not, in respect of exaggerated claims and advertising, behave in an ethical manner;
create considerable confusion for patients with chronic ailments; and
focus their ongoing training on building their practices rather than on the needs of patients.
This report also raises concerns about pseudoscience-based courses, that may attract VET-help fees, such as reflexology, homeopathy, aromatherapy and reiki, that are advertised on Government websites.
C. Government websites are providing undeserved credibility for discredited AltMed.
Underserved credibility is given to discredited AltMed courses including Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Reiki that may attract VET-help fees and are advertised on Government training websites.
Using acupuncture as an example, along with valid research findings, informed opinions and advice from medical experts, this report investigates the teachings in one high-profile accredited course and the impact and costs of this intervention on health care. While this report focuses on acupuncture, the same concerns can be extrapolated to other domains of pseudo-science, which is in both accredited university and continuing professional development courses. It also recommends that the scope of practice of AltMed practitioners should be limited to what they can advertise, to further protect patients from invalid diagnosis and belief-based interventions.
While ALL unregistered AltMed practitioners are NOT practicing any form of evidence-based medicine, (reflexology, iridology etc), there are thousands of registered practitioners, bound by the National Law to practice care that is evidence-based, who are practicing pseudoscience. The scope of the recent NHMRC review of natural therapies EXCLUDED interventions offered by registered practitioners on the basis that consumer protection was available through the AHPRA scheme.
This report highlights the millions of health dollars wasted by the Government funding of AltMed teachings and practices. Nearly $220 million was spent on acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy through Medicare from July 2011 to June 2016.
AltMed practitioners, who reject evidence-based medicine and over-service patient with placebo interventions are not the ‘right people’ to address patient needs, now and in the future.”