The contribution of Complementary and Alternative Medicine to sustainable Healthcare in Europe




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It is a remarkable fact that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is now used by one out of two EU citizens.

Throughout the European Union people are evidently seeking more natural and gentle methods of healing and increasingly favouring the provision of CAM within existing healthcare systems.

This report describes the characteristic features of CAM, reviewing its holistic and individualised approach, its ability to harness a person’s innate healing capacity, its focus on salutogenesis and its emphasis on the therapeutic relationship as well as on prevention, self-care, health literacy and patient empowerment. In the European Union CAM is practised by approximately 145,000 doctors dually trained in conventional medicine and a particular CAM modality and around 160,000 trained CAM practitioners (with or without statutory regulation) practising various CAM modalities. This means that there are about 65 CAM providers (30 dual-trained doctors and 35 CAM practitioners) per 100,000 inhabitants compared to the some 475,000 general practitioners (GPs) working in the EU which equates to about 95 GPs per 100,000 EU citizens. These figures demonstrate that there is a vast, largely untapped, reserve of CAM healthcare provision available across the EU. This is a resource that citizens wish to see fully developed and utilised.

Although many Europeans use CAM, there is a huge diversity in its regulation across the EU determining who can practise CAM, what qualifications are required and how services are offered and financed. This patchy provision means that citizens experience practical and attitudinal barriers that limit their access to and use of CAM. To redress these inequalities, it is evident that a pan-European process to instigate an appropriate regulation of providers of CAM throughout the EU should be initiated as soon as possible. This process should take into account the full extent of the scope of CAM modalities across the healthcare spectrum from general health maintenance and education to CAM treatments of specific illnesses. This process should run in parallel with practical measures taken to integrate CAM modalities into the healthcare systems of each and every Member State, a requirement recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).6

The availability of CAM products in the EU, including homeopathic, anthroposophic, herbal and Asian medicinal products, is increasingly being threatened by unharmonised, onerous EU requirements and national regulations that are leading to prohibitive costs for manufacturers or effectively removing traditional medicines from the market altogether. The reduction of the availability of these CAM 2020 CAM products thwarts the growing demand of European citizens for more natural, health enhancing, low-risk medicinal products and food supplements. It also drives people to purchase unregulated products over the internet which is inherently dangerous. It is essential to reduce overly formalistic and economically prohibitive burdens in the creation of registration dossiers for CAM medicinal and food status products.

The CAMbrella report confirms that European research in the field of CAM is limited and that there is almost no significant investment by any EU Member State in CAM research. The pitiful level of public investment in CAM research in Europe stands in stark contrast to relatively large investments in Australia, Asia and North America. It is essential to include further CAM research in national health research strategies and especially in the EU research programme Horizon 2020.