Herbal medicines form an important part of most traditional systems of medicine in the Western Pacific Region. They play an important role particularly in primary health care.
The significant contribution made by herbal medicines to human health has led to increased popular, official and commercial interest. More and more governments are considering policies on the appropriate use of herbal medicines.
In 1989, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on traditional medicine and modern health care. This resolution urges Member States to introduce measures for the regulation and control of medicinal plant products.
Government policy on herbal medicines requires a clear statement on the role of herbal medicines in health care. The extent of the government's involvement and the relationship between herbal medicine and general health services need to be clearly defined. At the same time, mechanisms need to be established to ensure the safety and quality of herbal medicines and traditional methods of care.
To support Member States that are engaged in these issues, the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific Region organized a Working Group on Herbal Medicines in December 1997. This meeting prepared a set of Guidelines for the appropriate use of herbal medicines.
The guidelines cover a broad range of topics in relation to herbal medicines, with particular emphasis on national policy development, regulation of practice and registration of herbal products.
In some countries, a significant percentage of the population still relies heavily on locally produced herbal medicines for their health care. It may not, therefore, be possible to implement some aspects of the guidelines immediately. A schedule could be set up so the guidelines are implemented step by step. These guidelines represent a set of generic principles which can be flexibly implemented by individual countries.
It is hoped that these guidelines will prove a useful technical, managerial and administrative tool for countries intending to initiate or continue promoting the appropriate use of herbal medicines in their health care systems.
S.T. Han, MD, Ph.D.