Status of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in Science and Alopathic Medicine

Science magazine is ending 2014 with a special section on Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM) spread over three issues. This is a true landmark event, in that T&CM is difficult to evaluate by the rules of Allopathic medicine, and there has been something of a firewall between the two schools of thought. I have found the articles in this special section to be well thought out, clarifying the historical relationships, current situation, and possibilities for a way forward to appropriately integrate these tools into a scientifically rigorous, but holistically oriented health system.

By way of example, I offer the preface to the special section written by Margaret Chan, M.D.
Director-General, World Health Organization:

Supporting the Integration and Modernization of Traditional Medicine

“Nearly a quarter of all modern medicines are derived from natural products, many of which were first used in a traditional medicine context.”

Traditional medicine (TM) holds great potential to improve people’s
health and wellness. It is an important, yet often underestimated, part
of health care. TM is found in almost every country in the world and
the demand for its services is increasing every day. TM can contribute
to addressing a number of global health challenges of the 21st Century, in
particular in the area of chronic, noncommunicable diseases and population
TM is often seen as more accessible, more affordable, and more acceptable
to people and can therefore also represent a tool to help achieve universal
health coverage. It is commonly used in large parts of Africa, Asia, and
Latin America. For many millions of people, often living in rural areas within
developing countries, herbal medicines, traditional treatments, and traditional
practitioners are the main and sometimes the only source of health care. The
affordability of most traditional medicines makes them all the more attractive
at a time of soaring healthcare costs and widespread austerity.
In wealthy countries, TM meets an additional set of needs. People
increasingly seek natural products and want to have more control over their
health. They turn to TM to relieve common symptoms, improve their quality of
life, and protect against illness and diseases in a holistic, nonspecialized way.
Incidentally, nearly a quarter of all modern medicines are derived from
natural products, many of which were first used in a traditional medicine
context. TM is thus a resource for primary health care, but also for innovation
and discovery.
However, TM needs rigorous, scientific data to demonstrate its efficacy. It
also needs evidence-based standards for quality and safety evaluation to support
its appropriate regulation. I am happy to see included in this special feature
of Science magazine, a series of perspectives on TM from a global team
of experts, and would like to encourage more views to be shared and more
robust research to be conducted in the area of TM in the future.
The general situation concerning the global use of TM was recently
disseminated through the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014–2023.
It makes clear that, to move into mainstream medicine on an equally trusted
footing, TM needs a stronger evidence base. The need for stronger regulatory
control covers not only the products but also extends across the practice
and practitioners. Updating and enhancing the strategy has allowed WHO to
acquire a better understanding of how to boost the global integration of TM
into health systems, to benefit individuals seeking the right care, from the right
practitioner, at the right time.
The two systems of traditional and Western medicine need not clash. Within
the context of primary health care, they can blend together in a beneficial harmony,
taking advantage of the best features of each system and compensating
for certain weaknesses in each as well. In an ideal world, TM would be an
option, a choice, offered by a well-functioning, people-centered health system
that balances curative services with preventive care. The challenge is to give
TM its appropriate place in an integrated health system, to help all practitioners
understand its unique and valuable contribution, and to educate consumers
about what it can and cannot do. In other words, we need to modernize
this rich resource and cultural heritage and put it in its proper place in today’s
Margaret Chan, M.D.
Director-General, World Health Organization

 Science Magazine Special Section on Traditional and Complementary Medicine
Science 12/19/2014 To Be AddedTo Be Added