By Opija Raduk

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently held a virtual dialogue with representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) to discuss the priorities and potential of traditional medicine in addressing global health challenges.

The dialogue comes ahead of the WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit, scheduled for August 2023 in Gujarat, India.

The virtual dialogue, coordinated by the People’s Declaration for Traditional, Complementary and Integrative Healthcare, brought together over 300 CSOs and more than 600 participants, uniting the knowledge and expertise of traditional medicine practitioners and users worldwide.

WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that traditional medicine holds roots in community knowledge and resources, often serving as the first recourse for health and well-being in many regions. Recognizing the importance of engaging with civil society, he highlighted the significance of their contributions in shaping WHO’s guidance and policies for member countries.

“Traditional, complementary, and integrative health is rooted in the knowledge and resources of communities.  For millions of people around the world, it is their first stop for health and well-being and an integral part of their health system.  It is for precisely these reasons that dialogues with civil society organizations are so important to WHO, as we shape our guidance and policy recommendations for countries,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus.

As requested by Member States during the World Health Assembly in May 2023, WHO has initiated the development of a new traditional medicine strategy for 2025-2034. Suggestions and proposals from CSOs will contribute to this vital task and inform the work of the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in harnessing the potential of traditional medicine to improve global health outcomes.

The CSOs stressed that traditional medicine, with its holistic approach to health, can contribute to a positive vision of well-being that integrates physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects. Referencing the Declaration of Astana, they emphasized the importance of integrating and leveraging traditional medicine to create health services that are in harmony with the health of individuals and the planet.

The CSOs called for greater integration of traditional medicine into policy, including universal health coverage, citing the vast number of traditional medicine practitioners worldwide who make healthcare accessible and affordable to millions of people.

They highlighted the need for increased research activity and evidence generation to support the integration of traditional medicine into health systems. The CSOs stressed the importance of training and continuous professional development for traditional medicine practitioners, along with specific registration and monitoring processes for traditional medicine products.

Dr. Shyama Kuruvilla, WHO lead for the Global Traditional Medicine Centre and Summit, expressed WHO’s respect for diverse Indigenous knowledge systems and traditional medicine practices worldwide. She affirmed WHO’s commitment to strengthening the evidence base, supporting safe and effective traditional medicine use, and ensuring equitable sharing of benefits.

“WHO respects the vast Indigenous knowledge systems and traditional complementary, integrative health approaches that have evolved over centuries in a diversity of contexts, in countries across the world”, said Dr. Kuruvilla.