Alternative medicine

Why alternative medicine should be incorporated into conventional health care

A proposal to restructure primary health care in South Africa offers the perfect opportunity to formally integrate complementary and alternative medicine into the country’s health system.

Complementary and alternative medicine is any practice of medicine that is outside of traditional conventional medicine. allopathic Medication. Some of these medicines can come from natural herbs and are called herbal medicines. They are used, among other things, as remedies for a variety of ailments such as coughs and insomnia and as dietary and weight loss supplements.

In South Africa, as in many other countries, these alternative treatments are used alongside conventional medicines rather than exclusively. They are also patient-chosen rather than prescribed, creating a complementary rather than alternative practice.

In 2014, the government amended the Medicines and Related Substances Act Act. Complementary and alternative medicine practitioners are now officially recognized and are required to register with the allied health professions advice.

The amendment was seen as the government recognizing complementary and alternative medicine, but it did not translate to their inclusion in health policy. Much remains to be done before there is symbiosis between these two systems.

Filling a critical gap

South Africa’s private healthcare system is ranked among the best in Africa, with reputable facilities comparable to those in developed economies.

In this context, it may seem counterproductive to focus on integrating conventional and complementary health approaches. But the reality is that people’s health care demands are not being met. This is especially true in rural areas of the country, where access to basic conventional health care is extremely limited.

In these rural settings, complementary and alternative medicine practices are common. South Africa’s rich diversity means that there are a variety of approaches to alternative medicine. However, the current literature provides little information on its use.

The full inclusion of these treatments in health care programs would ensure that studies of safety, quality and effectiveness are available and regulated. This is especially important given the potential for side effects that the existing health care system may be unaware of or ill-prepared to handle.

A global picture

Worldwide, only a few countries have achieved full integration. These include China, Korea and Vietnam.

But the integration of complementary medicine is not just about using one treatment with another. In an integrated system, complementary health care approaches are formally recognized and integrated into all aspects of health as well as national drug policy. Training and treatment measures are recorded and properly regulated. Patients can access both conventional and complementary products and services.

In Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Mali, Canada and India, complementary medicine practices are inclusive rather than integrated. This is because the practice is not fully integrated with all aspects of health. In these countries, complementary medicines are widely used but not fully accepted for the delivery of health care. They are also not fully included in the national drug policy.

Many other countries have a “tolerant” system of complementary medicine, which means that allopathy is the main system of care and some complementary approaches are permitted by law. South Africa falls into this subcategory.


The popularity of complementary and alternative medicine in South Africa has led to calls for its integration into health care and medical education in the country. systems.

But there are two problems. First, integration measures in medical and health schools in South Africa are almost non-existent. Related to this, there is a paucity of studies on the integration of these drugs with conventional drugs and their effect on patients.

Second, it is difficult to decide what to teach student interns. Adding “selected content” to the busy schedules of medical, pharmacy, nursing and allied health students will pose significant challenges.

Valuable lessons could be learned from countries like Cuba where complementary medicine is integrated into training and practice. Medical students receive extensive training in the theoretical and practical aspects of complementary and alternative medicine. Only duly qualified and certified health professionals are authorized to practice with complementary skills and alternative medicine. This ensures that patients are not exposed to unsafe practices.

Towards a single system

South Africa’s diversity means that there are a variety of complementary health approaches which may differ across different racial, ethnic and cultural groups. This can pose a challenge to inclusion.

For starters, South Africa can create inclusion strategies that will see integration happen over time. These would include quality and effectiveness studies and scientific evidence supporting the use of complementary and alternative medicine.

Inclusion strategies may need to be launched in a specific province, with the full support of government and regulatory sanctioned advisory bodies. This would focus attention on a smaller area and may limit associated errors.

The strategy should also integrate alternative medicine practices into the training curriculum for medical and health workers. This would educate students about complementary practices and expose conventional health practitioners to the pros and cons.

This strategy would have several advantages, including that of successfully integrating complementary practices into the health system. It would also mean that practitioners could advise patients on medications and treatments accordingly. More importantly, it would advance the healthcare for all agenda in South Africa.