Integrative Care
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Swedish Health Minister Lambasts “Bogus” CAM

16 April, 2014 by David Finer

In reference to the recent articles in the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen criticizing certain CAM therapies, the Swedish Minister of Health Göran Hägglund emphasized the need for reliable information, a critical approach and training of health care staff. Associate Professor Torkel Falkenberg, Head of IC, welcomes critical journalism but emphasizes that the newspaper erroneously lumps all CAM therapies together as if they were the same.

Commenting on the series of articles by medical journalist Anna Bäsén in Expressen purporting to expose certain Swedish CAM therapies and therapists as bogus, Swedish Minister of Health Göran Hägglund expressed ”disgust”, adding:

– Therefore, it is best if consumers are informed, have a critical approach and consult conventional health care, so that we get a solid foundation of knowledge.

The statement by the Minister is consistent with signals from the international community on the need for action in this area. The areas Hägglund singles out for action (information, training and critical analysis) are also – in addition to research – some of the very areas that I C is involved in.

The EU Initiative
Following a four-year investigation, the European researcher network CAMbrella recently (November 2013) proposed  to the European Parliament  that Europe should create a Center for Knowledge, Research and Action, as found e.g., in the US (NCCAM) and Norway (NAFKAM).

Torkel Falkenberg and senior researcher Johanna Hök, working at I C as well as at the prestigious Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet, were both involved in CAMbrella as coordinators, responsible for the global perspective of CAM research. Working with scientists from 15 other institutions in 12 European countries, they played a leading role in the network behind the CAMbrella “roadmap for future European CAM research”.

WHO Proposes Integration
The World Health Organization recently presented its ”WHO Strategy for Traditional Medicine and CAM by 2023”. Torkel Falkenberg played a central role in this global effort as well. WHO aims to promote the safe use of effective treatment methods through regulation, research, and appropriate integration of TM/CAM products and caregivers in national health care systems.

To achieve these goals, the WHO member states are advised to construct a knowledge base, formulate national policies and strengthen activities in the areas of quality, safety and efficiency.

As we have previously reported on the I C homepage, the road ahead – according to the World Health Organization – involves consolidating universal access to health care, including appropriate TM/CAM through the safe and effective integration of TM/CAM into national health care systems.

“Wrong To Tar With Same Brush”
Torkel Falkenberg emphasizes the a need to separate the wheat from the chaff in the debate on CAM.

– The Expressen articles are praiseworthy in their effort to take a critical look at the irresponsible pursuit of alternative therapies, as well as pointing to the need for regulation, research, information and communication in the field. The only problem is that the journalist and the newspaper tars all CAM therapies with the same brush, which is wrong. Unfortunately, this is a very common error in the debate , which I choose charitably to interpret as founded in ignorance, not deliberate deceit. The argument goes that the very concept of CAM automatically denotes something for which there is no evidence. But the CAM area includes hundreds of different forms of therapy, some of which are whole systems traditions – such as Traditional Chinese Medicine or Indian Traditional Medicine for example – which in turn contain lots of sub-groups of therapies. It is disingenious to lump these all together in this way.

Three CAM Categories
With respect to the question of evidence and the situation for CAM in general, Torkel Falkenberg distinguishes three different categories:

– Some CAM methods are certainly ill-founded, and even dangerous, and they should be phased out. For others, there is an emerging evidence base, thanks to the thousands of researchers who investigate the CAM area and present their findings at the major international research conferences, such as the upcoming one in Florida in May. A third group, which is large and growing, contain CAM methods which are already evidence-based but not yet integrated into the health care system. This group of more evidence-based therapies includes, for example, yoga, acupuncture , mindfulness and tactile massage.

David Finer

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