The World Health Organization released its first global strategy for complementary and alternative medicine May 16. The United Nations agency's report—"WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002 to 2005"—provides a policy framework to help countries make CAM safer and more accessible.
"Traditional or complementary medicine is victim of both uncritical enthusiasts and uninformed skeptics," said Yashurio Suzuki, WHO executive director for health technology and pharmaceuticals. "This strategy is intended to tap into its real potential for people's health and well-being, while minimizing the risks of unproven or misused remedies."
CAM's growing popularity prompted the agency to create its policy. About 80 percent of people in developing nations use traditional medicine, and its use has doubled in Europe and North America in the past 10 years, according to WHO. Although CAM has been fully integrated into the health systems of China, North and South Korea and Vietnam, many countries have not performed adequate research on alternative health care, according to the report.
With its strategy, WHO aims to assist countries in developing national policies for evaluating and regulating alternative practices, creating a stronger research base, and ensuring availability and affordability of alternative medicine and practices.
There is also the risk that further commercialization could make these therapies unaffordable to many who rely on them as their primary source of health care. Therefore, WHO believes policies to protect indigenous or traditional knowledge are necessary.
"I think it's a legitimate concern and a legitimate strategy," said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas. "Although many countries in the West don't really need agencies like WHO, its programs are helping to increase access to safe health care in developing countries."
Some may argue that the proposed policies are going to "pharmaceuticalize" herbs, but what it does is put herbs on par with allopathic medicines, Blumenthal said.
To see the report, visit www.who.int.
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