A landmark gathering of health care, business and academic experts at St. Luke’s Hospital Conference in New York City on Sept. 19 called for greater funding of research on the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in multicultural communities. The goal is to identify and understand the role of traditional systems of healing—among them herbs, acupuncture, yoga and meditation—in such communities, and to integrate them into cost-effective and efficient health care delivery systems in these communitis, the experts said.
Cheryl Smith, M.D., chair of the department of H.I.V. and AIDS at North General Hospital in the largely Black and Hispanic Harlem community of New York City, described the use of CAM among H.I.V. and AIDS patients. “A number of patients choose not to be on anti-retroviral medications but prefer to try alternative therapies. Some will say they are taking their anti-retroviral therapies but they really are not. They are taking herbs instead because they believe in them. It’s not something that just showed up. It’s been that way from generation to generation,” she said.
In another example, Susan Gould Fogerite, Ph.D., director of research, Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), noted that sickle cell anemia patients use alternative therapies, including herbs, acupuncture and meditation, especially in managing pain.
The “Multicultural Summit on Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (MS-CAM 2005) brought together TNJ, the National Association of Health Services Executives, the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives and the Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in a first-time collaborative effort. In addition to Smith and Fogerite, the panel of experts involved in the day-long deliberations included Beth Clay, president, BC & A International LLC, a legislative and policy consulting firm in Washington, D.C.; Fredi Kronenberg, Ph.D., director, Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Christine Wade, associate director of research and administration, Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Peter Furth, president, FFF Associates, natural products consultants in Stamford, Conn.; George Zeppenfeldt, president, Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives Inc.; Marian Scott, president, New York Regional Chapter, National Association of Health Services Executives; Franklin Ng, president, Kingsway Trading Inc., a leading importer of traditional Chinese herbal supplements based in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Mary Alice “Mimi” Donius, Ed.D., R.N., associate professor of nursing and coordinator of Graduate Programs, School of Nursing, College of New Rochelle, N.Y.
The panelists addressed such topics as health care disparities in multicultural communities; public and private funding resources for CAM research; public-private research partnerships; the convergence of CAM and conventional medicine; educating conventionally trained health care professionals, particularly nurse practitioners and clinical nurses, in CAM; insurance coverage for CAM therapies; and advocacy of CAM issues among legislators and policymakers. They called for the standardization of natural products and for exploring forms of self-regulation of the industry that would ensure the survival of small, independent operators.
Furth said, “While I would like to see more stringent regulation, I am not sure that government regulation is the best way to go. Self-regulation has worked in certain industries and could be the way to go with nutraceuticals.”
The experts emphasized the need for clinical trials and peer reviews to assess the efficacy of traditional therapies employed by multicultural populations. Ng noted that China’s traditional medicine industry already possesses “thousands of years of knowledge and experience” that could benefit American consumers and the still emerging and even controversial CAM industry in the United States.
Summit participants also examined the rising incidence of autism and its implications for academic performance and productivity in the African-American community. Dietary supplements are a primary treatment for autism. According to Clay, studies show that African-American children typically are not diagnosed until they enter school, fours years later than their white or wealthier counterparts. She also cited a possible link between the former use of vaccines that contained mercury as a preservative and the prevalence of autism. While preservatives containing mercury are no longer used in childhood vaccines and the cause(s) of autism are not known, more research is needed into its roots and for diagnosis and effective treatments.
Excerpts of MS-CAM 2005 will be featured in the February 2006 issue of TNJ.
By Salome Kilkenny