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Focus on patients vs. battle against virus
Many alternative interventions used for HIV/AIDS originate from traditional Chinese or ayurvedic medicine, both Eastern healing systems. Resistance or outright hostility to alternatives among many practitioners of Western medicine often are based on a narrow view of knowledge and science, according to the author of an extensive report on complementary medicine for HIV/AIDS.1,2
Western medicine has developed along more empirical lines, while Eastern medicine is based on theoretical systems that have developed over centuries, explains Richard C. MacIntyre, PhD, RN, associate professor and division chair for health sciences at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
"The problem in Western medicine is that we started thinking of Western medical science as a paradigmatic form of knowledge or truth, and that real truth resides only in the way we do science in the West. That thinking has so dominated that it has become almost dogmatic and doesn’t admit any ideas outside of that belief system," he says.
But MacIntyre points out that "many different forms of human knowledge exist," and empirical evidence is only one of them. Complementary therapies such as Chinese medicine, although "grounded in sophisticated theoretical systems," can appear less than credible when viewed "piecemeal" by other cultures.
While Western HIV/AIDS treatments are aimed at battling the virus, Eastern therapies focus more on the condition of the host and on bolstering and maintaining the patient’s immune system so HIV doesn’t overwhelm it, he says.
Another difference is that Chinese medicine programs are tailored to each patient, while Western therapies are aimed more at the disease than the individual.
Complementary medicine involves integrating both approaches, but for many Western practitioners, that requires a more open-minded attitude, MacIntyre states.
"Open-mindedness and doubt in one’s own knowledge of the world used to be the hallmark of science, and we’ve lost a lot of that," he says. "We’ve instituted a standard by which all knowledge is judged, which is itself myopic. That’s not to say that everything should go, but the intellectual basis for how we develop knowledge in Western medicine needs to be re-examined by a greater number of researchers and practitioners."
1. MacIntyre RC, Holzemer WL, Philippek M. Complementary and alternative medicine and HIV/AIDS. Part I: Issues and context. JANAC 1997; 8:23-31.
2. MacIntyre RC, Holzemer WL. Complementary and alternative medicine and HIV/AIDS. Part II: Selected literature review. JANAC 1997; 8:25-38.