Alternative health treatments get a boost from WHO

A declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) could raise the profile of traditional or alternative health treatments such as acupuncture and herbal medicine.

The WHO has called on member countries to integrate traditional medicine (TM) into their national health systems and for countries to share experience and information related to national policy, regulation, research, education and practice.

The WHO has recognized traditional medicine as one of the resources of primary healthcare services due to increased availability and affordability and its contributions in improving the health of many in developing countries.

The organization has summarized the role of traditional medicine in healthcare systems and highlighted the progress, challenges and future direction of its development and says governments should establish systems for the qualification, accreditation or licensing of TM practitioners and TM practitioners should upgrade their knowledge and skills based on national requirements.

The declaration was delivered this week at a WHO congress on traditional medicine in Beijing and says the use of TM has changed dramatically over the past thirty years and now traditional medicine plays an important role in meeting the demands of primary health care in many developing countries, particularly in African and Asian countries.

It's use has also been expanded widely in many developed countries where it functions under the title of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) - according to the WHO 70% of the population in Canada and 80% in Germany have used traditional medicine as complementary and alternative medical treatment.

WHO's director-general Margaret Chan says for millions of people, often living in rural areas of developing countries, herbal medicines, traditional treatments, and traditional practitioners are the main and sometimes the only source of healthcare.

Dr. Chan says the two systems of traditional and Western medicine need not clash but can blend together in harmony within the context of primary healthcare and use the best features of both systems, but such harmony can not happen unless governments make genuine policy decisions.

Dr. Chan says many countries have brought the two systems together and says China is a good example where herbal therapy of proven utility in many disorders is provided in State hospitals throughout the country, alongside conventional medicine.

The WHO Summit Congress on Traditional Medicine was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Health and the State Administration of Traditional Medicine of China.

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