I was sent a chain message over WhatsApp talking about how WHO supports alternative medicine and how it is a shame that it is being censored by some political parties in Spain. I would like to know what is the actual position of WHO regarding alternative medicines (homeopathy, acupuncture, biodecoding, etc.).

They quote this article to defend their position, saying that "WHO encourages governments to incorporate alternative medicines in their sanitary systems".


1 Answer 1


The WHO's position on alternative medicine seems to be the same as their position on conventional medicine: if it is proven to work and proven to be safe, go ahead and use it.

The document you linked was published in 2013 and outlines the WHO's general strategy and position regarding alternative medicines, though they tend to refer to them as traditional and complementary medicines. Looking at the opening paragraphs on the linked document, you can see their position:

Across the world, traditional medicine (TM) is either the mainstay of health care delivery or serves as a complement to it... TM, of proven quality, safety, and efficacy, contributes to the goal of ensuring that all people have access to care. Many countries now recognize the need to develop a cohesive and integrative approach to health care that allows governments, health care practitioners and, most importantly, those who use health care services, to access T&CM in a safe, respectful, cost-efficient and effective manner.

Clearly, the WHO supports alternative medicine if it is of 'proven quality, safety, and efficacy'. This makes sense, because alternative medicine that works is just medicine. If it meets the same criteria as conventional medicine then it is no different than conventional medicine.

Do note that this is not a blanket statement that all alternative medicines are supported by WHO. Homeopathy, harmonized water, and many other types of 'alternative medicine' are not of proven quality, safety, or (especially) efficacy, so the WHO would definitely not support them.

As a side note, the WHO also has a Spanish version of the document on their site, so it seems unlikely (and unfeasible) that 'some political parties in Spain' are censoring it.

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    +1 for "alternative medicine that works is just medicine".
    – user32299
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 6:28
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    There's also the psychological factor -- especially in a country with non-western "traditions", people are more likely to listen to a traditional-style healthcare provider than an outsider that calls themselves doctor. So working with said TM and making sure they're able to offer the best care possible will be more effective, because more people will trust him/her. There's no room for ego in the business of saving lives. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 9:04
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    @GrahamChiu: First one that comes to mind is the ~500 year old smallpox innoculation. It brings the mortality rate down to ~1% rather than the usual 20-30%, so it definitely works and is 'traditional'. Not all effective medicines were invented in the last century, we just now know why things work.
    – Giter
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:52
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    @GrahamChiu: 1) "What traditional medicine works better than modern medicine" is a very different question than "What traditional medicine actually works". 2) A very effective new medicine doesn't make a moderately effective old medicine stop working. 3) If people are unwilling to take new medicine but are willing to take moderately effective old medicine, then it has at least some small benefit. 4) Armamentarium is an amazing word!
    – Giter
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 0:54
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    @GrahamChiu The most used medical substance in the world — Asprin, ACA, acetylsalicylic acid — derives its name from the traditional method by which it was first manufactured: using the leaves of Willow trees, the Salix genus of plants. ACA and its precursor Salicin has been used as an ache and fever relief for at least 2400 years.
    – user32299
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 12:58

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