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● The World Health Organisation (WHO) says traditional medicines continue to be used in every country in some capacity as part of a global market valued at more than a trillion rands.
A 2011 study by WHO researchers Molly Meri Robinson and Xiaorui Zhang estimates that in much of the developing world, 70% to 95% of people still rely on traditional medicine for primary health care.
They estimate the global market to be worth about $83bn (about R1.2-trillion) a year, with a growth rate of 10% to 20% a year.
Most of these traditional medicines are derived from herbs and plants, but include some animal parts and minerals.
The WHO estimates that at least 25% of all modern medicines are derived — either directly or indirectly — from medicinal plants, primarily through the application of modern technology to traditional knowledge.
Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, has been used to diagnose, treat and prevent illness for more than 2,500 years.
With certain classes of pharmaceuticals, such as antitumoral and antimicrobial medicines, the WHO says the percentage of plant-derived material may be as high as 60% — but in many developed and developing nations, traditional medicine products are still not officially recognised under the law.
Nevertheless, traditional medicines are used widely as prescription or overthe-counter medications, for selfmedication, as home remedies, or as dietary supplements and health foods.
In some industrialised nations the use of traditional medication is also significant, with Canada, France, Germany and Italy reporting that between 70% and 90% of their populations have at one time used traditional medicines under the titles “complementary”, “alternative” or “nonconventional”.
“This is perhaps not surprising given that until the middle of the 20th century and the advent of so-called ‘modern medicines’ (starting with the commercial production of penicillin in 1943), traditional medicines were the only medicines,” say Robinson and Zhang.
China, India and Japan are reported to have the highest per capita consumption of traditional medicine in Asia, according to a recent study published in the Pharma Review journal.