Journalism and health

09. Carole Isoux, traditional Chinese medicine /

Traditional local medicine and conventional modern medicine which is often termed “western medicine” are complementary, although sometimes at odds. Traditional medicine is widely used in India and is called Ayurveda and is also widespread in China where traditional Chinese medicine includes acupuncture, body massage, herbal medicine, food science and Qigong (Chi Kung). However, the ancient traditional Chinese medicine could not prove its efficacy as opposed to the current scientific practice, although it has numerous followers in Asia, Africa, Middle-East and in the west.

Health journalists find it challenging to cover stories pertaining to traditional medicine given that their background and their education are evidence-based, realistic and grounded in science. The coverage of these issues gets even trickier with regard to the major political climate surrounding the traditional medicine in China where legal action is taken against any of its critics.

Let’s discuss journalism and traditional medicine in China with Carole Isoux, a correspondent in South west Asia since ten years, previously correspondent in China for many French media outlets such as BFM TV, Ouest France, L’Obs and Europe 1 and for international media institutions such as South China Morning Post.

She is also the head of the Thai department of the Union of International Francophone Press.

Based in Bangkok for 10 years, Carole Isoux specializes in health topics in Southeast Asia.

After obtaining an EU scholarship, she focused on traditional medicine news.

Carole Isoux – Journalist – Thaïlande

Traditional medicine here in Asia is a medical branch. Even inside a hospital fitted with modern western equipment, there is always a Chinese medicine ward and the two wards work together.

For example, around 90 % of Covid patients received traditional Chinese medicine treatment, as a therapy on its own or associated with modern treatment.

This type of medicine is less expensive, and in some poor countries such as Laos or certain African countries, this traditional medicine is largely integrated in standard medical practices, whereas from a western perspective, this medicine is not recognized as such.

In 2019, the World Health Organization devoted a section to traditional Chinese medicine.

Carole Isoux – Journalist – Thaïlande

This offered visibility and a regulatory framework to this discipline, which was met with great scepticism by western practitioners who described it as mysticism backed by some states. People oppose it strongly, for financial motives but also for political and cultural reasons.

A medical discipline always hides a train of thought, a way of viewing the word. The Chinese medicine which is gaining momentum in the world, reflects also the Chinese mentality and the Chinese culture, which are expanding their influence.

This is a very delicate issue, specifically now.

Carole Isoux devotes 60% of her work time to reading related works.

Carole Isoux – Journalist – Thaïlande

I tried choosing experts capable of explaining their discipline in simple terms, easy to understand by a western audience who has its own references.

I often chose practitioners who’ve built a dual background both in western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

TCM is a discipline that is 5000 years old but it is still poorly understood in the Western world

The difficulty with surveys on TCM lies in bringing back tangible proof.

Carole Isoux – Journalist – Thaïlande

For instance, if we criticize a product or a drug or a vaccine this often leads to consequences because the big labs don’t like to be the object of bad publicity. They have very powerful PR services.

The arguments they produce as part of the debates around Chinese medicine: “There is no mass testing that “isolate the products” – because this is how the testing procedure is done in western medicine.

But in traditional medicine, the approach is holistic.

We don’t give the same drug to the same patient, depending on his age, place of residence and his eating habits. Consequently, it’s difficult to conduct testing on a large scale. We should dismiss the argument that blames lack of testing or absence of proof, and not fall into that trap. We should instead consider the real political stakes behind these medical choices.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

Logos CFI et France Médias Monde