The growing trend towards the use of alternative herbal treatments has prompted the United Arab Emirates to warn consumers about the potential health risks involved in using unregistered medicines.
The Gulf News reports that a Health Ministry spokesman cited studies revealing that unregistered herbal medicines pose a grave danger to the health of people who use them. He added that even registered herbal medicines should be used in consultation with the doctor.
"Only those who have lost faith in allopathic treatment opt for herbal medicines. Rather than helping the patient, at times these have an adverse effect on health and cause more damage," the spokesman said. "Patients who use herbal medicine as traditional medicine should be made aware that it won't cost them more to consult a doctor prior to opting for herbal medicine."
He continued: "In the UAE, there are two types of herbal medicine - that which is approved and sold in pharmacies and that which is not approved and falls under the category of alternative herbal medicines. These are also called 'street medicines'."
The Department of Drug Control of the Ministry of Health has found 37 unregistered herbal medicines being sold by different pharmacies, the Gulf News said, an act described by the Department as "an outright violation of rules of practising in the pharmaceutical profession".
Dr Issa bin Jakka Al Mansouri, director of the department, said it was illegal for such medicines to be imported into the UAE. He added that he had ordered agents and importers of these medicines to refrain from distributing them to pharmacies and drug stores.
Agents of these medicines have been given a 15-day grace period from the date of the order to send them back to the manufacturing companies abroad, after which offenders will be prosecuted.
Al Mansouri told the paper that the medicines included creams, sprays, ointments and powders, and that his department had sent a list of such medicines to agents and importers, as well as private pharmacies and drug stores telling them to avoid selling or importing these.
He stressed that all types of herbal medicines must be approved and registered before they are sold by pharmacies, adding that inspection campaigns carried out early this month had led to the closure by the department of five pharmacies for not observing rules on the safety of medicines, or employing unlicensed pharmacists.
Warnings were also sent to ten pharmacies for selling medicines at two different prices. A number of medicines whose expiry dates had lapsed were also confiscated and destroyed.
In a further bid to ensure that consumers are protected from illegal practitioners, the health ministry has introduced new examinations for the registration of physicians practising complementary and alternative medicine.
Candidates will submit their applications during May, with registration taking place in June. Each registered applicant will have to sit for a written examination which will assess practitioners' diagnostic skills and their ability to analyse laboratory results.
According to the ministry, the practitioners of all alternative medicines which are allowed in the country are required to sit for an examination to prove their qualifications.
The ministry has made it clear that only those practitioners who have at least five years experience after the completion of the course of studies and internship period are eligible to submit applications.More information can be obtained from the website of the Office of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCAM) at the ministry.