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UN TO DEVELOP FIRST-EVER INFORMATION STANDARDS FOR TRADITIONAL MEDICINE

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7 December - The United Nations health agency is set to develop the first-ever global information standards for traditional medicine, which is a primary source of health care for many people in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America and is increasingly being used in Europe and North America.

The International Classification of Traditional Medicine project will assist in creating an evidence base for traditional medicine – producing terminologies and classifications for diagnoses and interventions, according to a news release by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Traditional medicine, as defined by WHO, is the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses.

In some Asian and African countries, the agency points out, 80 per cent of the population depend on traditional medicine for primary health care.

Traditional medicine, of which herbal treatments are the most popular, has been used in some communities for thousands of years. As traditional medicine practices are adopted by new populations there are challenges such as developing national policy and regulation and ensuring safety, effectiveness and quality.

The classification will initially focus on traditional medicine practices from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea that have evolved and spread worldwide.

“We recognize that the use of traditional medicine is widespread. For many people – especially in the Western Pacific, South-east Asia, Africa and Latin America – traditional medicine is the primary source of health care,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's Assistant Director-General of Innovation, Information, Evidence and Research.

“Throughout the rest of the world, particularly Europe and North America, use of herbal medicines, acupuncture, and other traditional medicine practices is increasing. Global classification and terminology tools, for traditional medicine, however, have been lacking.”

The International Classification of Traditional Medicine will have an interactive web-based platform to allow users from all countries to document the terms and concepts used in traditional medicine.

“Several countries have created national standards for the classification of traditional medicine but there is no international platform that allows the harmonization of data for clinical, epidemiological and statistical use,” said Dr. Kieny.

“There is a need for this information to allow clinicians, researchers and policy-makers to comprehensively monitor safety, efficacy, use, spending and trends in health care.”