TM/CAM has many positive features including: diversity and flexibility; accessibility and affordability in many parts of the world; broad acceptance among many populations in developing countries; increasing popularity in developed countries; comparatively low cost; low level of technological input; and growing economic importance. These can all be seen as opportunities to be maximized.
But other features of this type of health care can be regarded as challenges to be overcome. They include: the varying degree with which it is recognized by governments; the lack of sound scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of many of its therapies; difficulties relating to the protection of indigenous TM knowledge; and problems in ensuring its proper use.
WHO's broad range of TM/CAM expertise means that it is well placed to help tackle many of these challenges. Indeed, WHO Member States are increasingly and repeatedly requesting more assistance and guidance on TM/CAM issues - as expressed, for example, during WHO Regional Committee meetings, at the International Conferences of Drug Regulatory Authorities (ICDRAs) and at international government forums.
In 2000, the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, attended by 25 ministers of health, requested support for: creation of an enabling environment for TM; development of guidelines for formulating and evaluating national policies on TM; and development of mechanisms for improving the economic and regulatory environments for local production of traditional medicines. 2 Similar requests were also made by WHO's Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEARO) in 199947 and by the Government Forum on Traditional Medicine in China in 2000, and by the 9th ICDRA meeting in 1999.
Some challenges are common to regions. For example, the Chinese and Indian Governments are concerned with how best to use TM to strengthen primary health care in remote areas. In Africa, many countries are seeking means of making best use of local TM resources and how to make TM an integrated component of minimal health care packages. For European WHO Member States, safety and quality, licensing of providers and standards of training, methodologies, and priorities for research, have rapidly become issues of great importance.