The Integrative, Complementary and Alternative Healthcare Practices Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA) nearly doubled in membership from 2014 to 2015 as it moved from interest group to “Section” status under the leadership of Elizabeth Sommers, LAc, MPH, PhD. The growth was reflected in a robus t set of presentations and posters at the early November 2015 APHA conference. One of the posters, presented by Colombian Daniel Gallego-Perez, MD, a DrPH student at Boston University (pictured below with Sommers), examined the status of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research and Innovation in Colombia: State of the Art. His team’s lens: “indexed, non-indexed academic and gray literature” from 1980 to 2010. The team also engaged nearly two dozen semi-structured interviews with key informants.
The Gallego-Perez team found a total of 380 publications: 43 peer reviewed, 282 from other academic papers, and 55 from “gray literature.” The vast majority in each category were published in Colombia. The greatest number in a single therapy, at nearly 40, related to homeopathy. Energy medicine and “Combined Therapies (CAM)” followed with 15 and 25 publications, respectively. The 2006-2010 period showed the most significant activity. In that time, the number of papers related to homeopathy hit more than twice that of any other 5-year period. Also notable was a jump in papers on manipulative therapies from typically 0-1 to a half dozen.
The team’s definition of research is of interest: “a human activity [whose] goal is approaching knowledge, interpreting reality, or [creating] a trans-cultural and trans-discursive dialectic of the same, according to the paradigm from which the researcher is placed.” This, they note, “accounted for the inclusion of documents often excluded from mainstream definitions.” They also note that in the interviews three interrelated themes arose: “the meaning of research within the CAM paradigms; the relationship between CAM and ‘science’; and the ‘meaning of diseases’ and healing processes.” The team concludes: “The CAM research database built through this project is expected to become a national reference on the field and to facilitate identification of researchers across the country to foster research collaboration.”
Comment: This is spade work that will most certainly provide a shared platform in Colombia for the future practice and providers associated with “CAM.” The use is significant: a 2002 journal article includes an estimate that 40% of Colombia’s population uses traditional medicine or CAM. I like the broad inclusion criteria given the anticipated use of these report and papers as fodder for the minds of new explorers. Messy, yet to exclude might leave out of sight just the thread that might shape the pattern of a future investigator. One is mindful of the obscure text that informed the work of the 2015 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, China’s Tu Youyou. The breakthrough in Tu’s research came via accessing an ancient volume in which allusion was made to a process method for Artemesia. This is just the sort of tidbit one might find in gray literature valued only by a person working from a paradigm that might be discarded or denigrated by another.
Side note: Speaking of Nobel Prizes, this piece could not be complete without reference to a Huffington Post article from Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH, at the time of the 2014 death of perhaps the most famous Colombian since : the Nobel winner for literature in 1982, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (pictured). Ullman documents how Garcia-Marquez was among the 40% of “CAM” users. Homeopathy figured into his life and writing. A homeopathic doctor was the “godfather of the protagonist” in Love in the Time of Cholera. He wrote of his father in an autobiography that he “gave up his worthy profession of telegraph operator and devoted his talent as an autodidact to a science on the decline: homeopathy.”