Chinese herbal medicine producers are speeding up production of moxa sticks made of mugwort to catch up with the flood of orders after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.
The herb, mainly used in moxibustion as a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique for thousands of years in China, has obvious effects of fumigating, eliminating dampness, killing insects and bacteria.
Li Hui, a 44-year-old farmer in Nanyang, central China's Henan Province, has been working at a local herbal medicine firm packaging moxa sticks for nearly a month. Ten sticks are sealed into a plastic bag, and 106 bags are packed in a box.
She hoped her hard work can help victims of the novel coronavirus disease get over the hardship as soon as possible.
Nanyang is China's major planting and production base of mugwort with a plantation area of 24,000 hectares, contributing to 70 percent of the country's total amount of wild and artificially planted mugwort herbs.
"We are selling more than 8,000 boxes of moxa sticks to Wuhan, the center of the epidemic outbreak, every day through chain pharmacies," said Li Yanqing, chairman of Nanyang Huakang Mugwort Products Co., Ltd., where Li works.
TCM medine and therapies have participated in the treatment of over 60,000 COVID-19 patients in China, according to data from the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The anti-epidemic headquarters of Nanyang has designated mugwort products as epidemic control materials, asking medical firms to speed up production. Huakang has been in full production since Jan. 26.
Li said mugwort producers usually started to boost production ahead of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, which falls in June this year, as on this day Chinese observe the traditional custom of burning mugwort leaves to ward off malaria and evil spirits.
However, requiring firms to drum up the production during the Lunar New Year holiday in January has made them unprepared and short of workers.
Li said with the coordination of the local government, farmers were mobilized to join the work at home, while villages were organized to collect semi-finished products door-to-door and send to the firm for packaging.
"The mass mobilization has helped solve the labor shortage, while giving local farmers' extra income in the fight against the epidemic," Li said.
The company is rushing to meet the first batch of orders of 380,000 boxes of the moxa sticks, which are equivalent to the supply volume in the first half of 2019.
"Currently, the company's products are all for the medical frontline in the hard-hit city of Wuhan," Li said.
TCM has shown positive effects in stopping mild cases developing into severe cases and has been included in the national diagnosis and treatment plan for COVID-19, said Xu Nanping, vice minister of science and technology, at a press conference Friday.
Burning mugwort smudge sticks can be applied in the moxibustion technique for heating the body to boost blood circulation, and the burning also fumigates with the effect of disinfecting the environment.
"The mugwort products are in short supply on the market, but we still sell the products to Wuhan at the previous prices. The costs of raw materials, labor wages and transportation are all surging, which has shrunk the company's profit from 10 percent to 3 percent," said Li.
He said moxa stick producers in Nanyang have spontaneously reached a "price alliance" promising to keep prices stable during the epidemic.
"In the face of a major epidemic, one can not forget moral principles at the sight of profits," Li said.