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WHO Publishes Traditional Medicine Strategy for 2002-2005

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the development of a strategy to increase the number of member nations having a national policy and legal framework to deal with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), particularly the growing use and distribution of botanical medicines.

The report, titled WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005, was presented May 16 at the World Health Assembly in Switzerland. This report is heavily focused on botanicals and the need to establish regulation of herbal products. Consistent with its previous positions and publications in this area in the past decade, WHO acknowledges the significant role that herbal preparations can offer as low-cost medicines when they are properly manufactured and rationally evaluated for their safety and efficacy.

The 74-page report indicates an intention to bring "order" to the practice and use of traditional medicines, which mainly refers to botanicals and other natural products used medicinally in systems of indigenous and traditional medicine.

The Traditional Medicines Strategy identified the following "key needs":

¥  National regulation and registration of herbal medicines.

¥  Post-marketing surveillance of herbals to monitor safety.

¥  Support of clinical research on the use of CAM for common health problems; these include the use of traditional medicines in the areas of infectious diseases, as they may be appropriate, as well as the growing problems with AIDS in many developing countries.

¥  Creation of national monographs for medicinal plants (many of these would presumably follow the outline and work already being done on the monographs being published by WHO).

WHO had previously published "Guidelines for the Assessment of Herbal Medicine" in 1991. (See HerbalGram 28, pp. 13-20 for complete text.) In addition, WHO has published a volume of herbal monographs to establish guidelines for identity, quality, safety and effective use, WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants Volume 1 (WHO, 1999; see "Monograph Update" article in HerbalGram 47, pp. 40-45, for a table showing the uses of medicinal plants supported by clinical data in WHO monographs).

The complete text of the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005 is available online at <>.