More MS news articles for May 2002

Alternative medicines may pose risk, WHO warns

2002-05-16 9:57:20 -0400

Increasingly popular alternative medicines, from Chinese herbal remedies to acupuncture and spiritual therapies, are often misused and may harm patients, the World Health Organisation warned on Thursday.

The United Nations health agency called for further clinical research into the safety and efficacy of such products, consumed by up to 80% of people in developing countries.

WHO urged its 191 member states to regulate what it calls traditional medicines and make them safer and more accessible. Only 25 have policies to license providers and check on authenticity, safety and efficacy of products, it said.

Incorrect use of alternative therapies has caused deaths in wealthy countries, where more and more patients rely on them, according to "WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005."

The herb Ma Huang (ephedra), used in China to treat short-term respiratory congestion, was marketed in the United States as a dietary aid. But its long-term use "led to at least a dozen deaths, heart attacks and strokes," the WHO said.

"In Belgium, at least 70 people required renal transplant or dialysis for interstitial fibrosis of the kidney after taking the wrong herb from the Aristolochiaceae family, again as a dietary aid," it added.

In France, three in four people have used complementary or alternative medicine at least once, according to the report. In Germany, three out of four clinics treating pain offer it.

"Many developed countries are now seeing that complementary or alternative medicine issues concerning safety and quality, licensing of providers and standards of training, and priorities for research, can best be tackled within a national policy framework," the report said.

"The need for a national policy is more urgent, however, in those developing countries where traditional medicine has not yet been integrated into the national health care system," it added, noting more than a third of people in developing countries lack access to essential medicines.

Worldwide, only China, North Korea, South Korea and Vietnam have fully integrated traditional products into their health systems, according to the Geneva-based agency.

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited