CORONAVIRUS/Health Ministry expands eligibility for Chinese herbal COVID-19 drug
Taipei, Sept. 9 (CNA) The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) on Friday expanded eligibility to get a traditional herbal formula used to treat COVID-19 for free just a day after setting tighter restrictions for its free distribution.
Under the policy reversal, COVID-19 patients who have a fever of 39 degrees Celsius or higher two days in a row, a cough symptomatic of asthma, or difficulty swallowing due to a sore throat can get the herbal remedy for free, said Victor Wang (王必勝), head of the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC).
The decision was made at an impromptu meeting hosted by the MOHW earlier in the day, Wang said.
Taiwan Chingguan Yihau (清冠一號 NRICM101), developed by the National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine (NRICM), had been distributed for free to any COVID-19 patient since late 2021 using a special government fund for such patients.
On Thursday, however, the MOHW's Department of Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy decided to limit free access to Chingguan Yihau to COVID-19 patients at high risk of developing severe symptoms, citing cost as a significant concern.
That same day, the MOHW notified health facilities that starting Sept. 15, Chingguan Yihau could only be prescribed for free to COVID-19 patients aged 65 and above, or who have diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or other factors increasing their risk from COVID-19.
COVID-19 patients who are not considered at risk of getting seriously ill from the disease were required to pay for it themselves, Huang Yi-tsau (黃怡超), director-general of the department, told CNA Thursday night.
A prescription for Chingguan Yihau costs between NT$1,700 (US$55) and NT$2,200, depending on the manufacturer of the herbal medications, according to the MOHW.
However, the health ministry's plan to limit eligibility for Chingguan Yihau, which has been proven to be an effective treatment for the disease in several clinical trials, raised concerns among some Chinese herbal medicine associations.
As Taiwan is likely to face another wave of COVID-19 infections, imposing the restriction on the use of Chingguan Yihau is like "asking for an umbrella back in rainy days" which could trigger public anger, Ker Yang-fu (柯富揚), president of the National Union of Chinese Medical Doctors' Association said on Thursday.
Following the policy U-turn, Wang said Friday that the government would convene a meeting on Sept. 29 to discuss whether to further allow pregnant people and children to get Chingguan Yihau for free.
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