Issues Magazine

An Evidence Base for Complementary Medicine

By Warwick P. Anderson

The National Health and Medical Research Council has set aside $5.3 million to fund research into the use of complementary medicines in Australia.

Readers of The Journal of Complementary Medicine will be familiar with the survey data that describes the patterns and trends in the use of complementary medicine (CM) in Australia. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s latest biennial health survey, Australia’s Health 2006, reports that:

  • one in two Australians regularly use CM and are spending more on CMs than prescription drugs;
  • many Australians use a range of CMs in addition to prescribed pharmaceuticals and other conventional medications; and
  • research in 2000–01 suggested that the use of complementary therapies in Australia was high in relation to other comparable countries, with almost 22% of patients in one study having used such therapies in the previous 12 months.

Australians and people around the world are increasingly looking for evidence of the safety and effectiveness of all medicines. Since CM is now such a major part of Australians’ health activities, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is initiating new approaches to supporting research and the provision of evidence-based advice in CM, including identification in our 2007–09 Strategic Plan .

In our Strategic Plan, NHMRC has committed itself to funding the best and most relevant research, and to facilitating the translation of the findings of that research into improved health outcomes, both among individuals and more systematically through the Australian healthcare system. There is also an expectation that improved investment in health and medical research will contribute to the growth of an innovative industry sector.

NHMRC has moved quickly to translate its commitment to CM into action. In November 2006, NHMRC co-hosted the Complementary Medicines: Future Directions Forum with the NSW Office of Science and Medical Research and the Centre for CM Research at the University of Western Sydney. Held in Sydney, the forum was attended by a diverse group of researchers, academics, practitioners and policy makers.

Drawing on the informed and wide-ranging discussion engendered by that Forum, NHMRC in December 2006 launched the Special Call for Research Applications into Complementary and Alternative Medicines. The aim of this special $5.3 million initiative was to fund research that will contribute to the body of evidence relating to the use of CM in Australia. The scope of the funding scheme was broad, encompassing proposals for research into a diverse group of health-related substances, therapies and disciplines.

NHMRC applied its usual high standards of peer review in the assessment of 141 research project applications received from 37 institutions, with 13 projects selected in March 2008. NHMRC looks forward to supporting these excellent research projects to advance knowledge about CM.

Adapted from The Journal of Complementary Medicine 2007, 6(3), 7 . Republished with permission from the Australian Pharmaceutical Publishing Co Ltd.