Cultural consonance, constructions of science and co-existence: a review of the integration of traditional, complementary and alternative medicine in low- and middle-income countries

Health Policy Plan. 2015 Oct;30(8):1067-77. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czu096. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


This review examined the determinants, patterns and imports of official recognition, and incorporation of different traditional, complementary and alternative systems of medicine (TCAM) in the public health establishment of low- and middle-income countries, with a particular focus on India. Public health systems in most countries have tended to establish health facilities centred on allopathy, and then to recognize or derecognize different TCAM based on evidence or judgement, to arrive at health-care configurations that include several systems of medicine with disparate levels of authority, jurisdiction and government support. The rationale for the inclusion of TCAM providers in the public health workforce ranges from the need for personnel to address the disease burden borne by the public health system, to the desirability of providing patients with a choice of therapeutic modalities, and the nurturing of local culture. Integration, mostly described as a juxtaposition of different systems of medical practice, is often implemented as a system of establishing personnel with certification in different medical systems, in predominantly allopathic health-care facilities, to practise allopathic medicine. A hierarchy of systems of medicine, often unacknowledged, is exercised in most societies, with allopathy at the top, certain TCAM systems next and local healing traditions last. The tools employed by TCAM practitioners in diagnosis, research, pharmacy, marketing and education and training, which are seen to increasingly emulate those of allopathy, are sometimes inappropriate for use in therapeutic systems with widely divergent epistemologies, which call for distinct research paradigms. The coexistence of numerous systems of medicine, while offering the population greater choice, and presumably enhancing geographical access to health care as well, is often fraught with tensions related to the coexistence of philosophically disparate, even opposed, disciplines, with distinct and unaligned notions of evidence and efficacy, and ethical and operational challenges of the administration of a plural workforce.

Keywords: Alternative; complementary; integration; local healing traditions; medical pluralism; traditional.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Health Policy*
  • India
  • Medicine, Traditional / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Health / methods*