WHO urges government oversight of alternative medicines
The World Health Organization yesterday urged governments to inform consumers about the safety and efficacy of alternative medicines and to provide insurance for alternative therapies that are established as sound.
"Since traditional, complementary and alternative medicines remain largely unregulated, consumers worldwide need to be informed and given the tools to access appropriate, safe and effective treatment," WHO said, issuing a set of guidelines on the safe use of therapies from acupuncture to herbal medicines and food supplements.
According to the organization, traditional medicine is the primary method of health care for up to 80 percent of populations in developing countries (WHO release, June 22). With more and more people in both the developing and developed world taking advantage of alternative medicines on the assumption that "natural means safe," reports of adverse or fatal reactions to the therapies are on the rise, WHO said.
Although no global statistics on such reactions exist, individual countries have reported problems. For example, China reported 9,854 cases of adverse reactions in 2002, more than double the number reported during all of the 1990s.
"Most countries have no regulations to control herbal products. More than 90 countries sell them over the counter," said Xiaorui Zhang, WHO's coordinator for traditional medicines (BBC Online, June 23).
In its guidelines WHO recommends that governments provide insurance for nontraditional therapies and products, see that consumers get information on product efficacy and safety and ensure that practitioners are properly trained and registered (WHO release).