Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine: A Worldwide Review
(2001; 200 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentForeword
Close this folderIntroduction
View the documentTerminology
View the documentWidespread systems of traditional and complementary/alternative medicine
View the documentThe situation in the use of traditional and complementary/alternative medicine
Open this folder and view contentsAfrica
Open this folder and view contentsThe Americas
Open this folder and view contentsEastern Mediterranean
Open this folder and view contentsEurope
Open this folder and view contentsSouth-East Asia
Open this folder and view contentsWestern Pacific
View the documentReferences
Open this folder and view contentsAnnex I. The European Union


In this document, medical providers and practices are generally described as traditional, complementary/alternative, or allopathic. "Provider" and "practitioner" are used interchangeably. In a few cases, particularly in the European section, the cumbersome term "non-allopathic physician" is used to refer to medical practitioners who are either not allopathic practitioners or who are allopathic providers but not physicians.

Allopathic medicine

Allopathic medicine, in this document, refers to the broad category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western medicine, biomedicine, scientific medicine, or modern medicine. This term has been used solely for convenience and does not refer to the treatment principles of any form of medicine described in this document.

Complementary/Alternative medicine

The terms "complementary medicine" and "alternative medicine" are used interchangeably with "traditional medicine" in some countries. Complementary/alternative medicine often refers to traditional medicine that is practised in a country but is not part of the country's own traditions. As the terms "complementary" and "alternative" suggest, they are sometimes used to refer to health care that is considered supplementary to allopathic medicine. However, this can be misleading. In some countries, the legal standing of complementary/alternative medicine is equivalent to that of allopathic medicine, many practitioners are certified in both complementary/alternative medicine and allopathic medicine, and the primary care provider for many patients is a complementary/alternative practitioner.

Herbal preparations and products

Herbal preparations are produced by subjecting herbal materials to extraction, fractionation, purification, concentration, or other physical or biological processes. They may be produced for immediate consumption or as the basis for herbal products. Herbal products may contain excipients, or inert ingredients, in addition to the active ingredients. They are generally produced in larger quantities for the purpose of retail sale (1).

Traditional medicine

Traditional medicine includes a diversity of health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal, and/or mineral-based medicines; spiritual therapies; manual techniques; and exercises, applied singly or in combination to maintain well-being, as well as to treat, diagnose, or prevent illness.

The comprehensiveness of the term "traditional medicine" and the wide range of practices it encompasses make it difficult to define or describe, especially in a global context. Traditional medical knowledge may be passed on orally from generation to generation, in some cases with families specializing in specific treatments, or it may be taught in officially recognized universities. Sometimes its practice is quite restricted geographically, and it may also be found in diverse regions of the world (see the section on complementary/alternative medicine, above). However, in most cases, a medical system is called "traditional" when it is practised within the country of origin.

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