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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
WHO suggests alternative medicine strategy
Traditional medicine consultancy in China
Traditional therapies are part of China's national health system
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By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent
line

The World Health Organisation has launched what it calls a "global strategy" on the use of traditional and alternative medicines.

It comes in response to the growing use of these medicines - and the WHO hopes its strategy document will help governments to develop laws regulating their use.

Mosquito
The malaria medication quinine is derived from tree bark
The WHO research has revealed that in some developing countries, the vast majority of medicines that people take are traditional medicines - in Ethiopia, the figure is 90%.

In recent years, people in western nations, too, have been turning to alternative remedies - three-quarters of French citizens, for example, use complementary medicines at least once in their lives.

Regulation

The WHO says that alternative medicines are "the victim of both uncritical enthusiasts and uninformed sceptics".

It believes that alternative and traditional treatments do have a legitimate role in modern-day medicine, but must be adequately studied and regulated.


[Alternative medicines are] the victim of both uncritical enthusiasts and uninformed sceptics

WHO

Some countries, such as China and Vietnam, have integrated traditional therapies into their national health care systems; and the WHO wants to help other countries develop policies that will enable their citizens to reap the benefits of alternative medicines, while protecting them from any hazards.

Although alternative medicines are regarded by many in the west as "natural" and "gentle", some contain substances which are as powerful as drugs developed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Many doctors would like to see alternative remedies put through the same strict series of clinical trials which conventional pharmaceuticals have to pass before they can be sold.

See also:

24 Aug 99 | Health
The alternative set
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