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Sunday, 18 November 2018

Keep acupuncture in Spanish health centres

Tiejun Tang
World Acupuncture Day was celebrated 3 days ago in Paris. Unfortunately all of the acupuncturists in the World received bad news after the good news on the same day –The Spanish government has announced plans to remove alternative medicine such as acupuncture or homeopathy from health centres. The reason for this decision is to avoid the “potential harmful effects” the science and health ministers said, further stating that: “Many people still believe that some treatments work despite there being no scientific proof available,” I disagree with this opinion, in fact there is considerable scientific evidence showing that acupuncture is a scientific therapy.

Three points below show that this is an ill-considered and incorrect decision made by the Spanish government.

Firstly, many scientific research reports support acupuncture.
PubMed is a free search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database on life sciences and biomedical topics. It was maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health . When you put “acupuncture” as a key word in PubMed search, you can get 29,039 papers. In these papers 15,057 were published in the last 10 years; 8,474 were published in the last 5 years; 4,113 papers were randomized controlled trial (RCT)reports; 1,474 papers were published in core clinical journals; 18,876 papers were published in English; 81 papers were published in Spanish. Of course not all of these reports have got a positive conclusion, but this statistical data demonstrates that acupuncture is becoming a hot point of medical research. Many positive scientific reports of the efficacy of acupuncture can be found in the research update of ATCM  at this link.

Secondly, acupuncturist training must keep a high qualification.
Like many Western medicine therapies, acupuncture has indications and contraindications. It also has some potential risks. An acupuncturist must have proper training. In China acupuncturist must have 5 years full time training to get a BSc degree in a Chinese medicine university. They not only learn acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine but are also trained in modern medicine knowledge. They must be aware of the red flags of clinical practice. Nobody can become an acupuncturist after a very short training period, even if qualified in Western medicine. Acupuncture training varies in different counties. Statutory regulation of acupuncture is needed to protect the patients, and the integrity of the profession. The Spanish  government should regulate acupuncture rather than ban it.  

Thirdly, evaluating a therapy should have a fair standard.
Medical errors often happen in Western medicine, it has become the third leading cause of death in the US [1]. An EU-WHO statistical data report shows that medical errors and health-care related adverse events occur in 8% to 12% of hospitalizations. For example, the United Kingdom Department of Health, in its 2000 report 'An Organisation with a Memory', estimated that there are about 850 000 adverse events a year (10% of hospital admissions). Spain (in its 2005 national study of adverse events) and France and Denmark have published incidence studies with similar results [2]. The medical error incidence of acupuncture is much lower compared to Western medicine. Statistic research in China showed that  from 1950-2002 there are 1192 cases reported of acupuncture accident, and 52 death cases[3]. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of acupuncture treatments in China every single day. The death rate is only one case per year in average. I have no comment on other alternative medicine treatments. Acupuncture is a very safe therapy if it is carried out by a high qualified practitioner. The Spanish government should use the same rule to evaluate every therapy, and listen to the feedback of the public before they make the final decision.

Eliminating acupuncture is an absolutely wrong decision.  It could not protect public health and will leave more patients exposed to the side effects of chemical drugs and the risk of surgical operations.Acupuncture is a valuable asset for all mankind, do not throw it away.

  1. Makary MA, Daniel M.  Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US. [J]. BMJ. 2016 May 3;353:i2139. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i2139.
  2. http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/Health-systems/patient-safety/data-and-statistics.
  3. Zhang Ren. History and current condition of acupuncture accident. Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine. 2004; 2(4): 306-313.