Although consumer information cannot compensate for poor TM/CAM products or inadequate TM/CAM practices, it can help consumers gain increased knowledge about the benefits and potential risks of TM/CAM therapies and where to find reliable sources of information. Public information about TM/CAM serves the purpose of spreading knowledge about the health benefits of TM/CAM as well as the potential risks. However, it is important that information strategies provide a well-balanced message containing reliable, well-supported information tailored to the specific local context. A recent report from Hong Kong SAR, China, on the impact of a number of publicity measures in reducing the incidence of herb-induced aconitine poisoning underlines the effectiveness of public information campaigns about the risks involved in the use of TM/CAM (34). In addition, experiences from public education strategies promoting rational use of conventional medicine support the use of public interventions for behavioural change (35).
The importance of developing and disseminating reliable TM/CAM information has been addressed in a number of reports (2, 33, 36, 37).
WHO has proposed six steps for the development of effective communication strategies promoting rational drug use: (i) investigation; (ii) activity planning; (iii) development of materials; (iv) material testing and revising; (v) activity implementation and monitoring; (vi) activity evaluation and reassessment (WHO, 2002). While the present guidelines focus mainly on steps (ii) and (iii) (see sections 3 and 4 respectively), it is recommended that stakeholders developing information promoting proper use of TM/CAM should pay attention to all six steps, possibly with guidance from the WHO work on the promotion of rational use of medicines.
The type of information needed when promoting proper use of TM/CAM may vary from country to country depending on a number of factors such as cultural and traditional influences, health system structure, the TM/CAM utilization pattern and the development of all additional aspects of proper use as outlined in section 1.4.