Broadcast: June 28, 2004
This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.
The World Health Organization says people need more information about how to safely use traditional medicines. The W.H.O. now has guidelines to suggest ways for public health officials to develop that information. The health agency is part of the United Nations.
The W.H.O. says up to eighty percent of people in developing countries depend on traditional medicines. More and more people in wealthy countries use them too. But the W.H.O. notes that just because products are natural does not always mean they are safe. It says reports of bad reactions have increased sharply in the last few years.
In China, for example, about ten-thousand harmful drug reactions were reported in two-thousand-two. There were just four-thousand cases reported between nineteen-ninety and nineteen-ninety-nine.
Traditional medicines are made from plants, animal products and minerals. The health agency says they remain largely outside government control.
In most countries, traditional medicines can be purchased without a doctor's order. Sometimes they are prepared by friends or by the patients themselves. The W.H.O. says this situation raises concerns about the quality of treatments and the lack of professional supervision.
Lee Jong-wook is Director-General of the organization. Doctor Lee says the W.H.O. supports the use of traditional medicines when they have been shown to help and to have few risks. But he says governments should have the tools to make sure people get the best information.
Under the new guidelines, traditional healers would have to be skilled. And they would have to be listed with the government. Also, people would have to be informed about how and where to report problems. Doctor Lee says governments can also use the guidelines to create media campaigns about the issue.
The suggestions are based on the experiences of one-hundred-two countries. The W.H.O says it hopes its new guidelines will help educate people about the health care choices they make.
Internet users can find the document at www.who.int. The full name is "Guidelines on Developing Consumer Information on Proper Use of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine." The site again is www.who.int.
This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.