Naturopathic care's important role in making health more equitable and accessible

Published 7 April 2021
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The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for urgent action to tackle and ultimately eliminate health inequalities as it marks World Health Day today (April 7).

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated and magnified health inequities around the world, with the disparities set to continue to widen as global poverty levels predicted to rise for the first time in 20 years.

Even in Australia where healthcare access is comparatively positive, there remain significant issues with recruitment and retention of primary health care providers in underserved rural and regional areas.

Professor of Public Health and Foundation Director of the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University, Professor Jon Wardle, said complementary and integrative medicine is playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of health care in underserved populations, including primary health care services.

“Naturopaths are well-trained, completing a four-year university degree, and significant numbers of naturopaths appear to already exist in areas of health provider shortage, representing an untapped resource for primary health care delivery,” said Professor Wardle.

“In rural New South Wales, complementary medicine practitioners providing primary health care - naturopaths, Chinese medicine practitioners, chiropractors and osteopaths - is nearly as high as the number of conventional GPs in those areas.

“Although rural communities in particular have an affinity for traditional, complementary and integrative medicine practitioners – they use them at a higher rate than urban populations in Australia – there is a broader role for these practitioners in primary health care at all levels.”

The Astana Declaration – the global guiding document for primary health care developed by the WHO and UNICEF and signed by all WHO member states – explicitly states the essential role of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine in achieving health for all.

Naturopathic principles and philosophies are aligned with those of public health, and particularly in rural health and patient-centred approaches to prevention are central,” Professor Wardle said.

“Although some of the tools naturopaths use are not unique to their practice – such as diet or lifestyle improvements – naturopaths are experts in translating the evidence and theory of these tools into real patient results.”  

Through his work at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, Professor Wardle is highlighting ways that naturopathic care can help improve health care outcomes for the public.

“Strong primary health care systems make health care not only more effective and more efficient, but they also make it more equitable and accessible. At the Centre, we are committed to exploring the ways that previously untapped primary health care resources like naturopaths can be harnessed improve health outcomes,” said Professor Wardle.

In addition to primary health care education and clinical service delivery, the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine has just opened a new facility based at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus that provides clinical trials in both face-to-face and online formats, broadening the reach of clinical trials to participants in regional and rural Australia who have been significantly underrepresented in this type of research. 

The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University is an internationally recognised centre of excellence and innovation in naturopathic medicine and health education, research and practice. NCNM creates, promotes and advocates a strong culture of incorporating evidence-based science into naturopathic education and clinical practice.

Media contact: Caitlin Zillman, Marketing and Communications Manager at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine +61 424 632 177 or caitlin.zillman@scu.edu.au