Traditional medicine in Saudi Arabia is based on herbal remedies and spiritual healing. There is hardly a city or village in the country where traditional medicines are not used or sold. They are also commonly used in home remedies for certain ailments.
In 1940, allopathic medicine began being used in large cities. Since then, the health authorities have taken all possible measures to develop highly sophisticated allopathic hospitals. The population of Saudi Arabia today enjoys very good health facilities. There was official resistance to complementary/alternative medicine until the 1990s when more Saudi Arabians demanded access to complementary/alternative medicine, and some professionals who had been trained abroad began to practise. The most popular therapies are acupuncture; herbal, nutritional, and health food products; and homeopathy.
A scientific research project on the merits and demerits of Saudi Arabian traditional medicines was undertaken as a precursor to drafting a regulatory framework and statutory provisions for the practice of Saudi Arabian traditional medicine and the sale and manufacture of the medicines used in it.
An act governing the practice of pharmacy and trade in medicines and medical products was issued by Royal Decree M/18 dated 18/3/1398 H (equivalent to 26 February 1978). Articles 44 and 50 of this act prohibit the handling of locally produced or imported products prior to their registration with the Ministry of Health. Paragraph 13A of the special provisions on registration regulations for pharmaceutical companies and their products, which was amended through Ministerial Resolution 1214/20 dated 17/6/1409 H (equivalent to 25 January 1989) (168), requires the registration of medicines and all products having medical claims, including herbal preparations containing active ingredients that possess medicinal effects.
The License Committee established under the Ministry of Health is responsible for approving or disapproving, mainly on the basis of safety and efficacy, the marketing and use of herbal preparations and herbal products, health food products, and natural health products, including items for cosmetic use. The Ministry of Health has approved guidelines restricting licences to practice acupuncture to those persons who have at least 200 hours of training, are anaesthetists, rheumatologists, or orthopaedists, and who comply with hygienic standards. Licensing legislation also regulates chiropractic educational standards and practice (81).
Education and training
No formal education exists in traditional or complementary/alternative medicine in Saudi Arabia; interested allopathic physicians go abroad to receive such training.
Traditional medicine is not covered by the health insurance system; however, some traditional medicine practitioners, especially spiritualists, practise free of charge.