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WHO: Officials Should Monitor Side Effects of Alternative Medicine

Jun 25, 2002 | AP

The World Health Organization hopes to set up a global surveillance system to monitor the bad side effects of alternative medicines such as treatments from roots and herbs, a top official said Tuesday.

While the use of alternative medicine is rising globally, health experts have less knowledge about how it affects patients than they do when it comes to Western pharmaceuticals, said Dr. Jonathan Quick, director of the WHO's Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy.

The surveillance system would be similar to one that has been tracking the side effects of Western medicine in 60 countries for the past quarter century, Quick told a news conference here.

Although scientists have little formal data about the effects of alternative medicines, some problems seem apparent.

Quick said cited liver failures caused by extracts from kava-kava, a pepper plant traditionally used as a ceremonial drink in the South Pacific.

German health officials said last week they had reports of 40 cases of liver damage in their country that may be linked to medicines containing kava-kava or its ingredient kavain. Three of the patients died and six needed liver transplants.

It's crucial to determine whether any adverse reaction is caused by the alternative drug or by inappropriate usage or herbalists' inadequate training, said Hong Kong's director of health, Dr. Margaret Chan.

Hong Kong plans a local monitoring system to track the effects of traditional medicine, Chan said. Quick said the WHO might cooperate with Hong Kong, but there is no timetable for the project.

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