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Alternative Medicine Therapy Guidelines for the World

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a document intended as a guideline to help national authorities develop reliable, precise, and circumstantial consumer information for those using traditional medicine.

The document is called: Developing information on proper use of traditional, complementary and alternative medicine, and hopes to be a global strategy to help governments develop safety laws regulating use.

The document urges national policies on the evaluation and regulation of traditional medicines, supports creating strong evidence based on the efficacy, quality and safety of products and practices, asks for availability and affordability of herbal medicines, and urges the documentation of traditional medicines and remedies.

WHO defines Traditional Medicine (TM) as "the medicine that refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being".

In industrialized countries, Traditional Medicine is also known as ‘Complimentary’ or ‘Alternative’ Medicine (CAM).

WHO supports the use of alternative medicine and states that although it is important to modern-day medicine, the lack of regulation has caused many to be misinformed, whether they are enthusiasts or skeptics. The WHO would like to see more clinical trials and research, so that countries can integrate these therapies into their national health care systems, while protecting citizens from dangerous effects.

The lack of clinical testing and regulation of herbal medicine was the cause of many deaths relating to the herb ‘Ma Huang’, also known as Ephedra. Ma Huang is a traditional Chinese herb used for centuries to treat respiratory issues, but was paired with caffeine and used as a dietary aid in the United States. This lack of testing and regulation led to heart attacks and strokes.

Lack of clinical testing is not reducing the use of Traditional Medicine; it is steadily gaining recognition world-wide and rapidly spreading to industrialized countries.

In 2002, WHO reported that:

• In Europe, North America and other industrialized regions, over 50% of the population have used complementary or alternative medicine at least once.

• In San Francisco, London and South Africa, 75% of people living with HIV/AIDS use TM/CAM.

• 70% of the population in Canada have used complementary medicine at least once.

• In Germany, 90% of the population have used a natural remedy at some point in their life. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of doctors who had undergone special training in natural remedy medicine had almost doubled.

• In the United States, 158 million of the adult population use complementary medicines and according to the USA Commission for Alternative and Complementary medicines, US $17 billion was spent on traditional remedies in 2000.

• In the United Kingdom, annual expenditure on alternative medicine is US$ 230 million.

• The global market for herbal medicines currently stands at over US $ 60 billion annually and is growing steadily.

• In China, traditional herbal preparations account for 30%-50% of the total medicinal consumption.

While Vietnam, China and the Republic of Korea have incorporated traditional medicine into their health care systems, over one-third of the populace in developing countries do not have the ability to access these medicines.

WHO is hoping that the guidelines they have provided will become a significant step to formulating national policy, while creating awareness about TM/CAM therapies among consumers.

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