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Towards the safer use of traditional remedies

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 12 March 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:673
  1. D J Atherton

    About 80% of the world's population does not have access to Western medicine and therefore depends on traditional medical practices. When people from less developed countries emigrate they continue to seek medical advice from traditional practitioners working in their own communities, even in countries where all citizens have free access to good quality Western medicine. Though the main reasons for this are probably cultural and linguistic, the role of mistrust and fear should not be underestimated.

    Large amounts of traditional medicines are imported into Britain, legally and illegally, and use of such medicines is frequently not admitted on occasions when serious illness forces patients to consult Western medical practitioners. These medicines carry with them a risk of adverse reactions; the risk needs to be quantified and as far as possible minimised.

    The safer use of traditional remedies was the subject of a one day meeting held last month at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London. The meeting was organised jointly by the National Poisons Unit (based at Guy's Hospital, London), the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the International Programme on Chemical Safety. During the past three years the National Poisons Unit has taken a special interest in toxicological problems resulting from exposure to traditional medicines, and it will be publishing its findings later this year. Despite the diverse backgrounds of participants at the meeting, who ranged from doctors and pharmacologists practising in the Western allopathic tradition to practitioners within the European, Chinese, and Indian herbal traditions, a reassuring …

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