On May 4, 2020, the Africa office of the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement on COVID-19 deeply at odds with policies in Europe and North America. Of the hundreds of millions of dollars with which governments and foundations are spending on research, virtually nothing is directed toward potential traditional, complementary and integrative contributions. Media coverage of the widespread interest in such approaches, when it occurs, focuses on extremes. The Wall Street Journal led with cow dung, garlic and prayer and Nature with “cow urine, bleach and cocaine” together with the broadly dismissive “pseudoscience” and “bunk”. Scores upon scores of in vitro and other trials showing antiviral activity of herbs are dismissed. In contradistinction, WHO’s statement models calmness and reason. The agency calls for research while warning about over-claims. Should WHO’s integrative, inclusive statement be actively endorsed by natural health and integrative organizations?
The recent 72nd World Health Assembly – the May 2019 edition of WHO’s annual global health gathering in Geneva – offered unusually powerful windows into the advances of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) internationally. A WHO progress report detailed the expanding regulatory context for traditional medicine practice. Exemplar nations participated in a TCIM briefing session (all presentations available publicly). In parallel, the approval of a separate WHO initiative, long in development, to include Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) codes in the 11th version of WHO’s international classification of diseases (ICD-11) received major push back.
In the United States, the complementary and integrative medicine dialogue about “traditional medicine” typically looks to Asia. The West-meets-East orientation respects the power and influence of Chinese and Indian traditions. Yet in doing so, both local indigenous practices and the roles of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean are mostly overlooked. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recently created a partial remedy for this hemispheric forgetfulness. A two-year collaborative process with representatives of over 20 nations has created a powerful network and opened access to a nation-by-nation bounty of practices, papers, research, and regulations.
The scientific merits of homeopathy are hotly debated. Protagonists can lean toward other kinds of evidence to make their case for homeopathy’s value. One hears that the Queen of England’s physician is a homeopath. Another kind of value-by-association evidence, from the same part of the world, is offered to anchor this glamorous positioning: homeopathy is a covered service in the UK’s less expensive government-funded system.