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Sillitoe - Chapter 02

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Traditional Medical Knowledge and Twenty-first Century Healthcare

the Interface between Indigenous and Modern Science

In the assessment of the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of the population of most developing countries regularly use and rely on traditional medicine for their everyday healthcare needs. At the same time, policy and regulation in support of this social and public health reality are still in an early stage of formation in most countries (Bodeker et al. 2005).

In response to a call from member countries to give greater emphasis to traditional medicine policy development, the World Health Organization's Traditional Medicines Strategy 2002-2005 was formed to focus on four areas identified as requiring action if the potential of traditional, complimentary and alternative medicine (TCAM) to play a role in public health is to be maximised. These are: policy; safety, efficacy and quality; access; and rational use. Underpinning the WHO move to integrate traditional medicine into national healthcare in its member states is a call for an evidence-based approach to traditional and complementary medicine. This, in its strictest sense, means the application of randomised controlled clinical trial methodology to the evaluation of herbal and other therapeutic modalities used in these systems. In a more general sense it means the development of a body of knowledge based on Western methods of empirical investigation, including laboratory and animal studies on the safety and efficacy of traditional herbal and other therapeutic modalities. Indigenous groups and traditional medicine spokespeople have pointed out that the requirement for evidence to be gathered according to Western understandings of traditional knowledge (TK) can have the effect of reducing long-held theoretical constructs of the body, disease pathogenesis and therapeutic modalities to testable elements that bear little or no relation to the original constructs on which theory and practice have been based throughout their long histories. This debate is one that is central to the interface between Western biomedicine and traditional medical systems and this chapter will attempt to address some of the central issues in terms of both the preservation of TK standards and the development of tradition-based healthcare in a contemporary setting.

Traditional Medical Knowledge and Twenty-first Century Healthcarethe Interface between Indigenous and Modern ScienceGerard BodekerIn the assessment of the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of the population of most developing countries r
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