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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Safety checks on alternative medicine
Herbal medicine
Herbal medicine can be very powerful
The World Health Organization is to monitor the safety of traditional and alternative medicines.

The move follows a number of deaths linked to their misuse.

This can be down to use of the wrong medicines, or to using medicines in the wrong way.

WHO experts hope to establish a global monitoring system within four years.

The such a system would gather and collate information on adverse reactions to traditional drugs and herbal medicines.

Similar systems are already in place for conventional Western medicines.

Traditional and alternative forms of medicine have grown increasingly popular in the West in recent years, but in Asia, such remedies have long been used by millions.

And in Hong Kong, the government has mapped out an ambitious plan to develop its traditional Chinese medicine industry, aiming to build up local producers of licensed drugs to rival the world's leading drug makers.

But recent incidents have highlighted the need to ensure such products are used safely, and more and more countries are developing regulatory systems to govern their use.

Jonathan Quick, director of the WHO's Department of Essential Drugs and Policy, said the number of problems associated with traditional medicines was increasing.

Chinese herb

He said the use of the herb Ma Huang, or Ephedra, used by Chinese medicine practitioners as a cure for short-term respiratory problems, can be dangerous, possibly causing heart attacks if used for an extended period.

A dozen people in the US died because of problems with the Ephedra plant.

There have also been reports of 24 cases of liver failure and three deaths associated with the herb kava kava.

And in Singapore a woman died and at least 14 others were sick recently after taking a Chinese-made diet pill.

Dr Quick said: "We've been concerned about some of these recent episodes.

"We would hope that over the four years of that strategy we get a basic global framework or safety monitor set up."

See also:

18 Dec 01 | Health
28 Nov 00 | Health
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