Traditional Medicine in Asia
(2001; 318 pages)


All countries in the South-East Asia Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) have a heritage of traditional systems of medicine. There are large numbers of traditional medicine practitioners who provide help and service to the ill and the needy. It is important that this unique knowledge, often found in ancient texts, be utilized by countries to the maximum extent possible without endangering the environment and destroying the very plants which are the source of the medicine.

Greater use could be made of these medicinal plants at the primary health care level so that all persons could have recourse to herbal medicine–particularly those living in areas without any allopathic health care coverage. Further research directed at a few of the chronic diseases against which more drugs are needed, such as diabetes, bronchial asthma and arthritis, could lead to the discovery of new drugs for these conditions. Regulated and selective export of some of these medicinal plants being eagerly sought after in other parts of the world could considerably enhance the foreign exchange earnings of countries with this biodiversity. Careful planning is needed so that such a programme could be launched without detriment to the environment and without reducing the availability of the medicinal plants in the countries. The very large numbers of trained and semi-trained practitioners of the traditional systems of medicine could become more involved in the national health care systems of the countries. Such involvement can come about only as a result of some regulation of the systems being followed, the products used for health care and the practitioners of such systems.

It is important also to take steps to ensure that unethical and unjustified exploitation of these plants, which have been used for centuries, is prevented–particularly the patenting in western countries of these remedies. At the same time,it is necessary to protect the discoveries being made in the countries of the Region by scientists and research workers who are carrying out research and discovering and documenting the effectiveness of the plants used.

The WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia has published this book in order to present to the governments, policy-makers, clinical investigators, regulatory authorities, doctors, practitioners of traditional systems of medicine and the public, the state of the art in these wide and many-faceted fields. It is felt that the information in this publication, presented by some of the most eminent international authorities, would help not only in our understanding of these systems of medicine but also in making better use of them.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section describes broadly several of the systems of traditional medicine in the countries of the Region. The second discusses policy issues such as harmonization of traditional and modern medicine, the role of traditional systems of medicine in national health care, a framework for cost-benefit analysis of traditional and conventional medicines, and the development of training programmes. The third section discusses technical issues such as legislation and regulation, standardization, pre-clinical toxicology and clinical evaluation, including ethical considerations and protection of traditional systems of medicines and research, drug development and manufacture of herbal drugs. Finally, the last part of the third section contains a brief description of the current status of traditional medicine in each of the 10 countries of the Region.

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