Traditional and Complementary Medicine Policy. (MDS-3: Managing Access to Medicines and Health Technologies, Chapter 5)
(2012; 17 pages)
For thousands of years, traditional medicine (TM) has been an important source of health care for much of the world, and many populations use and value TM not only as the source of their primary health care but also as part of their spiritual and cultural belief systems. Meanwhile, people in Europe, Australia, and North America have increasingly embraced TM, also referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), by using herbal medications to complement their standard health care. Attractive features of TM practices include greater accessibility in many parts of the world, cultural acceptance in low- and middle-income countries, comparatively low cost and, often, a lesser need for modern technology. In developed countries, CAM is used for preventing disease and maintaining wellness, in addition to complementing conventional care for chronic and acute health conditions. Although TM/CAM has a great influence on health care practices, there is wide variation from country to country in policies, laws, and regulations governing the safety, quality, and efficacy of TM/CAM therapies. Many consumers use herbal products to treat themselves—often without a health practitioner’s knowledge or advice. Consumers and practitioners may not be adequately informed about potential adverse effects, drug interactions, and how to use herbal medicines safely. Lack of regulations on quality standards and evaluation for safety and efficacy of these products may cause problems, resulting in the marketing of unsafe or ineffective TM/ CAM products. Countries that already have a strong pharmaceutical regulatory structure in place should adapt their existing systems to include herbal medications, and countries that lack regulatory standards should work toward setting up a national system that encompasses both pharmaceuticals and herbal medicines. All countries should have some framework in place to review and monitor herbal medicines, including a regulatory agency, a national advisory committee, and a system to monitor adverse reactions from herbal medicines. Expanding the credibility and integration of TM/CAM will require developing an evidence base for safety and efficacy, which means consolidating data from existing national and international studies and supporting new research to fill evidence gaps.

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