The World Health Organization says traditional medicines are an
effective treatment for modern illnesses and should be integrated into
primary health care. The head of the WHO says China, where herbal
remedies are prescribed alongside western medicine, is a good model to
follow. But there are still
concerns about the effectiveness and safety of traditional medicines.
Chinese traditional medicine has been practiced for over two thousand
years. It is used to treat everything from the common cold to cancer.
Its holistic approach of herbal remedies, diet, and exercise is gaining popularity in the West. Now the head of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, says the
ancient remedies should be used together with western medicine to treat
modern disease. "The two systems of traditional and western medicine need not clash.
Within the context of primary health care they can blend together in
beneficial harmony, using the best features of each system and
compensating for certain weakness in each."
Chan spoke in Beijing at the WHO's first-ever conference promoting traditional medicine. The WHO says traditional medicines have fewer side effects than western
drugs and can be a cheap, effective treatment for common illnesses such
as diarrhea and malaria. Chan says traditional medicine can also help prevent so-called modern
lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and mental disorders.
She says China, where doctors prescribe both medicines, sets a good
example. But she warns that not all traditional medicines meet
scientific and safety standards. "Many traditional medicines have an inadequate evidence base when
measured by these standards. Tests for quality and standards for
production tend to be less vigorous and controlled. Products may escape
the strict regulations set up to ensure safety. Practitioners may not
be certified or licensed."
Herbal medicines have long been a focus of research to incorporate their active ingredients into western drugs. But the herbal medicine market is now worth billions and too many are
being sold without a clear understanding of their ingredients or how
they work. The WHO says integrating traditional medicines into modern health care
would encourage scientific research and oversight and ensure they are
used safely and effectively.
Wang Qi is a professor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. He
says the biggest challenge to promoting traditional Chinese medicine
abroad is scientifically proving it works. "Science can gradually resolve this issue. For us ordinary people, the
most important thing is effectiveness. As long as there is a benefit,
it is good."
Listen to audio files for more details.
Translated by Buasawan Simmala