New legislation being introduced to monitor and regulate the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) should be welcomed in order to ensure that consumers who opt to use such products are fully aware of the benefits, or lack thereof.

This is according to Graham Anderson, CEO and Principal Officer at Profmed, who says that while CAMs may be hailed as potential cures for a broad range of ailments, some claim that the use of CAMs can often have little to no effect, or worse, even be detrimental to one’s health.

“It is concerning that products are being sold commercially in South Africa which have not been properly regulated and tested. These products often feature strong claims within their marketing campaigns, outlining the supposed health benefits. Furthermore, some of these products, which are often thought to be herbal, contain toxic ingredients such as arsenic, lead and mercury,” says Anderson.

In light of this, the Minister of Health released amendments to the Medicines and Related Substances Act at the end of 2013 which stated that all CAMs will now have to be regulated by the Medicines Control Council (MCC).”

According to the Chairman of the Health Products Association, Norman Fels, a number of deaths have even been attributed to the use of untested alternative drugs. “Due to this worrying trend, government has been forced to establish a legal framework to regulate the CAM industry and its associated products,” explains Anderson. “These new regulations state that all alternative medicines need to be registered with the MCC and all producers will now need to provide proof of safety and efficacy.”

According to the amendments, manufacturers and wholesalers of these products need to be licensed, and are required to comply with new labelling requirements which inform consumers that the product is ‘not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease’ because it has not been clinically tested.

The Pretoria High court is set to give a response to the Health Products Association of South Africa (HPASA) on their petitions, which were submitted to the court last year to dispute the amendments made by government. The HPASA has strongly rebutted the new amendments made by government, citing that it is unfair to treat CAMs in the same way as conventional pharmaceuticals. However, the fact remains that most homeopathic medicines have not undergone clinical studies which can prove cause and effect, although many continue to claim to offer similar benefits to their regulated conventional counterparts.

At the same time, the Medicines Control Council in South Africa states that there are in fact a significant number of complementary and alternative medicines which have ‘well-established medicinal use with recognised efficacy and an acceptable level of safety’.

“There is currently a high level of uncertainty around the effectiveness and safety of CAM products, and until their claims can be proven and clarified, few medical schemes will cover consultations and prescriptions for such treatment,” says Anderson.

“We would strongly recommend individuals ensure that they understand all the facts about any medication before consuming it, as not only could you be wasting both your time and money on ineffective remedies – it could actually result in doing more harm than good to your body.”


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