There has been intense public health debate in many parts of the world. The focus is to determine the most appropriate official policy towards traditional medicines. Some countries have policies that discourage traditional medicines, while others have supportive policies. The majority of countries do not have official policies and have simply left traditional medicines to individuals to decide (as of the year 2000, 25 countries reported having a national traditional medicine policy).
The important role being played by traditional medicine in the provision of primary healthcare is recognised around the world. There is now a growing consensus that the best policy is to protect and help develop the potential of traditional medicine as a source of health care. Safety, efficacy, quality and, above all, access to and cultural education of traditional medicine practices have to be guaranteed. Traditional Health Care Policies provide a sound basis for defining the role that traditional medicine plays in national health care delivery systems. Therefore increased government support and recognition of traditional medicine through official policies are urgently needed world-wide. The priority to be accorded to implementing traditional medicine policies differs between countries. It depends on the burden of ill health in the country and the relative importance and integration of traditional practitioners in the health care delivery system. There is no doubt, however, that national policies help all countries to develop strategies to protect their indigenous traditional medicine knowledge through increased recording and preservation and the re-training of traditional medicine practitioners on e.g. basic principles of reproductive health care. This is important for all of humankind.
For indigenous peoples the existence of traditional medicine policies is crucial. To be able to use and control their own, culturally defined, traditional health system is the most fundamental right of self-determination of Fourth World peoples.
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