Can natural and mainstream medicines coexist?

A man in audience on SBS Insight programProfessor Jon Wardle on SBS Insight.

Earlier this month, Foundation Director and Professor of Public Health from Southern Cross University’s National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, Professor Jon Wardle was invited to be part of a discussion on SBS Australia’s Insight program on the integration of traditional medicine.

The discussion focused on Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine, and there was a consensus of the urgent need for regulation of traditional medicine practitioners and products and their evidence-based integration.

Australians are some of the highest users of traditional, complementary and integrative medicines in the world, yet the Australian health care system has lower levels of regulation and integration of these practices and products than most countries.

Professor Wardle said “Regulation and integration of traditional medicine helps to maximise benefits of these practices and products, and minimises their potential risks.”

“It creates safer and more effective treatment for the 70 per cent of Australian’s who choose to use these practitioners and products,” said Professor Wardle.

According to the Australian Register of Naturopaths and Herbalists (ARONAH), the absence of statutory regulation means there is no minimum enforceable education standards for an individual to use the term ‘naturopath’. Despite this, ARONAH does require new graduates to have completed a four-year degree before they are granted professional recognition as naturopaths.

ARONAH Chair Jackie Arbuckle said “this requirement still cannot be enforced [and] as a result there is no way to respond when individuals who complete inadequate training, or no training at all, mislead the public by calling themselves a naturopath.”

“It can therefore be very difficult for the Australian public to differentiate between a naturopath and an unqualified individual,” said Ms Arbuckle.

ARONAH was established to mirror the statutorily regulated boards administered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA), however it is still a voluntary registry.

Professor Wardle adds that every government report since the 2000’s has recommended regulation of the profession, however this is yet to progress.

“It also means it is really hard to make a complaint and hold those practitioners accountable,” he said.

Professor Wardle emphasised the importance of ensuring this integration and regulation is done properly.

“Every country that has truly successful models of integration have the following characteristics: 1) they are truly integrative and multi-disciplinary, and 2) they have appropriate regulatory and policy mechanisms in place to support safe and effective practice,” Professor Wardle stated.

Australia currently lags behind countries like Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Switzerland and the United States— but we can catch up.

“At the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine we are trying to make all of this happen,” said Professor Wardle.

“We are preparing and supporting an integrated health workforce with the competency and capability to contribute to quality healthcare through innovative academic courses and clinical training programs, as well as growing a more robust body of evidence around these practices and products.”

You can watch the full SBS Insight episode here.

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