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WHO convenes first high-level global summit on traditional medicine to explore evidence base, opportunities to accelerate health for all

The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening the Traditional Medicine Global Summit on 17 and 18 August 2023​ in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India. Co-hosted by the Government of India, the Summit will explore the role of traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine in addressing pressing health challenges and driving progress in global health and sustainable development.

High-level participants will include the WHO Director-General and Regional Directors, G20 health ministers and high-level invitees from countries across WHO’s six regions. Scientists, practitioners of traditional medicine, health workers and members of the civil society organizations will also take part. 

In pursuit of health for all

The Summit will explore ways to scale up scientific advances and realize the potential of evidence-based knowledge in the use of traditional medicine for people’s health and well-being around the world. Scientists and other experts will lead technical discussions on research, evidence and learning; policy, data and regulation; innovation and digital health; and biodiversity, equity and Indigenous knowledge.

“Traditional medicine can play an important and catalytic role in achieving the goal of universal health coverage and meeting global health-related targets that were off-track even before the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.  “Bringing traditional medicine into the mainstream of health care — appropriately, effectively, and above all, safely based on the latest scientific evidence — can help bridge access gaps for millions of people around the world.  It would be an important step toward people-centered and holistic approaches to health and well-being.”

Heads of State and government at the 2019 UN high-level meeting on universal health coverage acknowledged the need to include evidence-based traditional and complementary medicine services particularly in primary health care, a cornerstone of health systems, in pursuit of health for all.  Today, traditional and complementary medicine is well established in many parts of the world, where it plays an important role in the culture, health and well-being of many communities. In some countries, it represents a significant part of the health sector’s economy, and for millions of people around the world it is the only available source of health care.

Advancing science on traditional medicine

Traditional medicine has contributed to breakthrough medical discoveries and continues to hold out great promise. Research methods such as ethnopharmacology and reverse pharmacology could help identify new, safe and clinically effective drugs, while the application of new technologies in health and medicine — for example genomics, new diagnostic technologies, and artificial intelligence — could open new frontiers of knowledge on traditional medicine. 

Amid an expansion in the use of traditional medicine worldwide, safety, efficacy and quality control of traditional products and procedure-based therapies remain important priorities for health authorities and the public. Natural doesn’t always mean safe, and centuries of use are not a guarantee of efficacy; therefore, scientific method and process must be applied to provide the rigorous evidence required for the recommendation of traditional medicines in WHO guidelines. 

“Advancing science on traditional medicine should be held to the same rigorous standards as in other fields of health. This may require new thinking on the methodologies to address these more holistic, contextual approaches and provide evidence that is sufficiently conclusive and robust to lead to policy recommendations,” said Dr John Reeder, WHO Director of Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases and Director of the Department of Research for Health.  

The Summit will explore research and evaluation of traditional medicine, including methodologies that can be used to develop a global research agenda and priorities in traditional medicine, as well as challenges and opportunities based on 25 years of research in traditional medicine. Findings from the systematic reviews of traditional medicine and health, evidence maps of clinical effectiveness, and an artificial intelligence global research map on traditional medicine will be presented.

A stronger evidence base will enable countries to develop appropriate mechanisms and policy guidance for regulating, ensuring quality control and monitoring traditional medicine practices, practitioners and products, according to national contexts and needs. 

WHO global survey on traditional medicine, ICD-11 and other data

At the Summit, WHO will present emerging findings from the third global survey on traditional medicine, which, for the first time, includes questions on financing of traditional and complementary medicine, health of Indigenous Peoples, quality assurance, traditional medicine knowledge, biodiversity, trade, integration, patient safety, and more.  The complete survey, which will be released later in the year, first on an interactive online dashboard and then as a report, will inform the development of WHO’s updated traditional medicine strategy 2025-2034 as requested by the World Health Assembly in May 2023.

Standardization of traditional medicine condition documentation and coding in routine health information system is a pre-requisite for effective management and regulation of traditional medicine in healthcare systems. This includes consideration of forms, incidence rates, and outcomes associated with traditional medicine healthcare. The Summit will be an opportunity to showcase countries’ experiences, explore regional trends and discuss best practices, including in the implementation of the traditional medicine chapter in the latest International Classification of Diseases, the ICD-11.

Participants in the Summit will examine a global overview of policy, legal and regulatory landscapes; formal structures and policies to collect data and establish systems for information management; an assessment of educational and training programmes for the development of traditional medicine workforce; and experiences and best practices on training, accreditation and regulation of traditional medicine practitioners, which can substantially advance patient safety and minimize patient harm in the provision of traditional medicine services.   

Biodiversity and indigenous knowledge

Biodiversity and indigenous knowledge are foundational pillars of traditional medicine and health and well-being, especially for Indigenous Peoples; 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity is in Indigenous territories or lands, while conservation of biodiversity is a key issue related to the sustainable use of traditional medicines. 

In preparation for the Summit, a WHO global workshop on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, health, and well-being was held in Brazil from 25 to 28 July, to better understand the invaluable connection between biodiversity, traditional knowledge, and human health. Meeting outcomes, in the form of recommendations, will be presented at the Summit, and will contribute to the biodiversity and One Health workstream.

The Summit’s focus on sustainable biodiversity management in the face of the climate crisis will drive the identification and sharing of best practices, initiatives, and legislative frameworks on the protection of traditional knowledge, innovation, and access and equitable benefit-sharing by countries.  The discussions at the Summit will focus on the rising prospect of global economic activities related to traditional medicine, Indigenous knowledge-based innovations in health care, application of intellectual property laws and regulations, and the use and promotion of indigenous and ancestral medicine through intercultural dialogues to support community health.

 

Notes to the editor

About the Summit

The 2023 WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit is organized by the WHO Global Traditional Medicine Centre, and is co-hosted by the Government of India, which holds the G20 presidency in 2023 under the theme “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. This will be the first in a series of WHO global summits on traditional medicine, which will be held every other year in different WHO regions.

Why now

For centuries, traditional, indigenous and ancestral knowledge has been an integral resource for health in households and communities, and it continues to  form a significant part of healthcare in many regions: 170 of the WHO’s 194 Member States have reported on the use of herbal medicines, acupuncture, yoga, indigenous therapies and other forms of traditional medicines; many recognize traditional medicine as a valuable source of healthcare and have taken steps to integrate practices, products and practitioners into their national systems. 

Today, traditional medicine has become a global phenomenon: demand is growing, with patients seeking greater agency and ownership of their health and well-being and seeking more compassionate and personalized health care.  For millions, especially those living in remote and rural areas, it continues to be the first port of call for health and well-being, offering care that is culturally acceptable, available and affordable. 

WHO work on traditional medicine

WHO traditional medicine programme started in 1976; today, through its Traditional, Complementary and Integrative medicine Unit, WHO is working with countries on developing standards and benchmarks for the training and practice of different systems of traditional medicine, and for their evidence-based integration in the International Classification of diseases (ICD). 

The 11th revision of ICD (ICD-11), which came into effect on 1 January 2022, includes a chapter on traditional medicine for dual and optional coding, which is based on traditional medicine originated in ancient Chinese Medicine (now commonly used in China, Japan, Republic of Korea and elsewhere around the world).  WHO is developing the next module in traditional medicine chapter, which will include diagnostic terms of Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha systems of medicine. 

WHO is implementing its second Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014–2023, focused on developing norms, standards and technical documents based on reliable information and data to support Member States in providing safe, qualified and effective traditional and complementary medicine services, and their appropriate integration into health systems.  The development of an updated strategy for 2025-2034 period was requested by the Member States at the World Health Assembly in May 2023.

In 2022, with the support of the Government of India, WHO set up the WHO Global Traditional Medicine Centre in response to the increased global interest and demand for evidence-based traditional medicine.  It is the first and only WHO global centre dedicated to traditional medicine.  This knowledge hub focuses on partnership, evidence, data, biodiversity, and innovation to optimise the contribution of traditional medicine to global health, universal health coverage, and sustainable development, and is guided by respect for local heritages, resources, and rights.

The third global survey on traditional medicine is designed to monitor the progress in the performance of traditional and complementary systems, to better understand their role, function and impact in countries’ health systems and to align with WHO and global monitoring frameworks.  The results will support the development of new traditional medicine strategy 2025-2034.  The survey is building on the previous global surveys conducted in 2001 and 2012, with follow-up data collected between 2016 and 2018.  The results were published in the 2019 WHO Global report on traditional and complementary medicine. Two T&CM indicators were included in the Global reference list of 100 core health Indicators (and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals).

 

Notes to journalist

WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit will be webcast live in official languages of the United Nations, and Hindi.

Access to the Summit is limited to local and Indian-based media outlets.

Experts are available for interviews, please contact [email protected] 

About WHO

Dedicated to the well-being of all people and guided by science, the World Health Organization leads and champions global efforts to give everyone, everywhere an equal chance at a safe and healthy life. We are the UN agency for health that connects nations, partners and people on the front lines in 150+ locations – leading the world’s response to health emergencies, preventing disease, addressing the root causes of health issues and expanding access to medicines and health care. Our mission is to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.