Many people use traditional medicine – but what are these methods really good for? A new center from the World Health Organization (WHO) will find out. The center is in India, a country where alternative medicine is so important that it even has its own ministry – one for Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the opening of the center in the city of Jamnagar in mid-April. “India’s traditional medicine system is not just a treatment. It is holistic science of life, “he said. According to the WHO, his government supports the center with 250 million US dollars (230 million euros).
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The center aims to be an engine of innovation to promote an agenda of evidence, data and sustainability in traditional medicine.” It should connect practitioners of traditional medicine around the world and help set standards for research.
Traditional medicine is a broad field. According to a WHO statement on the center, 80 percent of the world’s population use traditional medicine. These include acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine and herbal remedies.
Traditional medicine is also represented in modern science. According to the WHO, about 40 percent of all drugs approved today come from natural substances. The discovery of aspirin, for example, was based on ancient recipes made from willow bark. The research into artemisinin for use against malaria, for which the Nobel Prize was awarded in 2015, began with a study of ancient texts on Chinese medicine.
Traditional healing methods can prove to be dangerous
At least taking a closer look at cures developed over the centuries, checking them for plausibility and, if in doubt, conducting good clinical trials makes sense, said Georg Rüschemeyer of Cochrane, an international network that provides the scientific basis for decisions. in the health sector. Cochrane is especially known for its so-called Cochrane Reviews, systematic reviews that summarize all the scientific evidence on a specific question from medicine or other health sciences.
However, Rüschemeyer also stressed that in addition to the examples of traditional methods mentioned by the WHO, which form the basis of therapies that have now been established, there are probably numerous other examples where traditional methods have been shown to be ineffective or even dangerous. further examination – keywords Blood leakage. Whether a procedure justifies investing a lot of money in research studies is always an important consideration.
There are a number of Cochrane reviews on the use of traditional methods such as acupuncture for specific problems. But: “From my personal experience at Cochrane, I would say that I have not come across many such Cochrane reviews that have shown really convincing evidence of a traditional procedure,” Rüschemeyer said. This is often because when you search for it, you will find only a few and often poorly executed studies that can then neither prove nor deny an advantage – which brings you back to the question of whether you should invest limited research funds in a procedure that scientifically is not very plausible – for example, homeopathy.
The WHO Center uses artificial intelligence
Emeritus Professor Edzard Ernst, who has long sat in the chair of alternative medicine at the University of Exeter, also warns: “While one should wait and see who will lead the center and what work would come out, the WHO press release is full of warmer air and phrases.
The WHO says it also wants to use modern technologies in the new center to study traditional medicine – such as artificial intelligence and big data. The center will focus on creating a reliable evidence base for policies and standards for traditional medicine practices and products. In addition, it should help countries integrate them into their health systems.