$4m shot in the arm for al­ter­na­tives

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Health ed­i­tor

ONE of the big­gest dis­crep­an­cies in mod­ern health­care — that herbal and other al­ter­na­tive treat­ments have lit­tle of the for­mal sci­en­tific ev­i­dence de­manded of pre­scrip­tion drugs — will be tack­led af­ter the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a $4 mil­lion grant to es­tab­lish a new Na­tional In­sti­tute for Com­ple­men­tary Medicine.

The new in­sti­tute, to be based at the Camp­bell­town cam­pus of the Univer­sity of West­ern Syd­ney, will work out the pri­or­i­ties for fu­ture re­search projects look­ing at so­called nat­u­ral ther­a­pies, which are thought to be soar­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in Aus­tralia.

An­nounc­ing the grant last week, fed­eral health min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott said Aus­tralians now spent about $1 bil­lion each year on com­ple­men­tary and al­ter­na­tive medicines, such as vi­ta­mins, home­o­pathic medicines and tra­di­tional Asian medicines.

Two in three Aus­tralians are es­ti­mated to use some form of com­ple­men­tary medicine or treat­ment each year, in­clud­ing vi­ta­mins, herbal treat­ments, min­eral sup­ple­ments and other ther­a­pies.

The $4 mil­lion grant comes on top of the $5 mil­lion the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment an­nounced late last year it would give the Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil for spe­cific re­search projects in com­ple­men­tary medicine.

News of the latest grant has been wel­comed by other com­ple­men­tary medicine ex­perts. Pro­fes­sor Marc Co­hen, pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralasian In­te­gra­tive Medicine As­so­ci­a­tion which pro­motes the use of proven com­ple­men­tary medicines in main­stream med­i­cal prac­tice, said the new in­sti­tute ‘‘ prom­ises to pro­vide re­search out­comes di­rectly rel­e­vant to many Na­tional Health Pri­or­ity ar­eas, as well as in­crease Aus­tralia’s ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to the world’s knowl­edge of many widely used medicines’’.

‘‘ While the ma­jor­ity of the Aus­tralian com­mu­nity reg­u­larly use some form of com­ple­men­tary medicine, to date there has been a se­vere lack of fund­ing sup­port­ing high qual­ity re­search in this area, and much of this use is not guided by sci­en­tific re­search,’’ Pro­fes­sor Co­hen said.

In­terim di­rec­tor of the new in­sti­tute is Pro­fes­sor Alan Ben­sous­san, cur­rently di­rec­tor of the UWS Com­pleMED Re­search Cen­tre, who played a cen­tral role in set­ting up the NICM.

Pro­fes­sor Ben­sous­san told Week­end Health that there were ‘‘ a huge num­ber of Con­tin­ued inside, page 21

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