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What is traditional medicine?

March 6 2008

 
Taken from Fact sheet N°134  Revised May 2003
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs134/en/print.html

Traditional medicine

Traditional medicine refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.
Countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America use traditional medicine (TM) to help meet some of their primary health care needs. In Africa, up to 80% of the population uses traditional medicine for primary health care. In industralized countries, adaptations of traditional medicine are termed “Complementary“ or “Alternative” (CAM).
Increasing use and popularity
TM has maintained its popularity in all regions of the developing world and its use is rapidly spreading in industrialized countries.
• In China, traditional herbal preparations account for 30%-50% of the total medicinal consumption.
• In Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Zambia, the first line of treatment for 60% of children with high fever resulting from malaria is the use of herbal medicines at home.
• WHO estimates that in several African countries traditional birth attendants assist in the majority of births.
• In Europe, North America and other industrialized regions, over 50% of the population have used complementary or alternative medicine at least once.
• In San Francisco, London and South Africa, 75% of people living with HIV/AIDS use TM/CAM.
• 70% of the population in Canada have used complementary medicine at least once.
• In Germany, 90% of the population have used a natural remedy at some point in their life. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of doctors who had undergone special training in natural remedy medicine had almost doubled to 10 800.
• In the United States, 158 million of the adult population use complementary medicines and according to the USA Commission for Alternative and Complementary medicines, US $17 billion was spent on traditional remedies in 2000.
• In the United Kingdom, annual expenditure on alternative medicine is US$ 230 million.
• The global market for herbal medicines currently stands at over US $ 60 billion annually and is growing steadily.
Tried and tested methods and products
• 25% of modern medicines are made from plants first used traditionally.
• Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving postoperative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, and dental pain with extremely low side effects. It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia.
• Yoga can reduce asthma attacks while Tai Ji techniques can help the elderly reduce their fear of falls.
• TM can also have impact on infectious diseases. For example, the Chinese herbal remedy Artemisia annua, used in China for almost 2000 years has been found to be effective against resistant malaria and could create a breakthrough in preventing almost one million deaths annually, most of them children, from severe malaria.
• In South Africa, the Medical Research Council is conducting studies on the efficacy of the plant Sutherlandia Microphylla in treating AIDS patients. Traditionally used as a tonic, this plant may increase energy, appetite and body mass in people living with HIV.
WHO efforts in promoting safe, effective and affordable traditional medicine
The World Health Organization launched its first ever comprehensive traditional medicine strategy in 2002. The strategy is designed to assist countries to:
• Develop national policies on the evaluation and regulation of TM/CAM practices;
• Create a stronger evidence base on the safety, efficacy and quality of the TAM/CAM products and practices;
• Document traditional medicines and remedies.
At present, WHO is supporting clinical studies on antimalarials in three African countries; the studies are revealing good potential for herbal antimalarials.
Other collaboration is taking place with Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in the research and evaluation of herbal treatments for HIV/ AIDS, malaria, sickle cell anaemia and Diabetes Mellitus.
In Tanzania, WHO, in collaboration with China, is providing technical support to the government for the production of antimalarials derived from the Chinese herb Artemisia annua. In 2003, WHO support has so far facilitated the development and introduction of traditional and alternative health care curricula in seven tertiary education institutions in the Philippines.
For more information contact:
Daniela Bagozzi
Telephone: +41 22 791 4544
Email: bagozzid@who.int
WHO Media centre
Telephone: +41 22 791 2222
Email: mediainquiries@who.int

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