The Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia (CHC) has called on the government to change its health focus from supporting what it calls “an ailing and expensive illness model” to one that promotes wellbeing.
“Current health policy in Australia is still focused on the treatment of people after they become unwell, resulting in vast social and economic costs associated with chronic disease,” said Carl Gibson, chief executive of the CHC.
“This is costly in monetary terms and in terms of the impact on productivity and quality of life.”
Studies into effectiveness
Gibson said there has been a growing body of scientific knowledge around the efficacy of complementary medicines, and recent economic analyses suggest that several of the more well-known complementary medicines can provide large potential cost savings across several chronic conditions.
For example, an 2010 Access Economics report on the cost-effectiveness of complementary medicines, commissioned by the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, found that the use of St John’s wort, which has been found to be similarly effective as taking a standard anti-depressant for mild to moderate depression, could provide cost savings to the Australian health budget.
It said that a saving of over A$50m (US$44m) would be possible from the 56% of Australians who are taking medication to treat mild to moderate depression.
“The use and further development of complementary medicines provides an opportunity to counteract spiralling healthcare costs through more effective disease prevention and preventable chronic disease management, and potentially less reliance on the hospital system and the PBS.”
Gibson went on to advocate cooperation and collaboration between policy makers, industry, health professionals and researchers. “This is vital to ensuring that complementary medicines fulfil their potential of contributing to the overall health of all Australians.”
Swisse supports research
Gibson had earlier applauded health and wellness company Swisse for its support—to the tune of A$15m (US$13.1m) over six years—of the new Complementary Medicines Evidence Centre at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
It is part of a bid by the company to convince medical professionals of the benefits of complementary medicines, and comes after controversy last April when Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration cancelled the registration of Swisse's Ultiboost appetite suppressant, saying there was not enough evidence to support the product's indications.
The newly established centre will begin studies this year to investigate the safety, efficiency and cost effectiveness of complementary medicines and supplements sold in Australia.
"Our consumers already know because they feel the benefits, but the main aim is to make more independent research available for doctors," said Swisse Wellness chief executive Radek Sali. "At the moment, the GPs don't have a lot of information in that area.”
Professor Keith Nugent, deputy vice-chancellor of research at La Trobe, said at least another A$15m in funding for the centre was also being sought from other sources. He said the research would be completely independent with the all results published publicly.
According to the CHC’s Gibson: “A viable and innovative complementary medicines industry is dependent on research to support quality, safety, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness,
“This funding highlights the willingness of industry to work with researchers and with government to continue to grow the body of evidence for complementary medicines.”