Traditional medicine can help countries move towards universal health coverage, says top WHO official

Traditional medicine systems can help countries in their mission to provide universal health coverage, World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ghebreyesus and Mauritius prime minister Pravind Jugnauth laid the foundation stone for the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM). The centre will help countries harness the power of science to strengthen traditional medicine with a focus on evidence, data, sustainability and innovation, Ghebreyesus said in his speech.

Traditional medicine systems can help countries move towards universal health coverage by improving equitable access to safe, quality and effective medical services, he said. The GCTM will be a “truly global project” that will help bring the benefits of traditional medicines to people around the world, he said.

Also read: PM Modi inaugurates WHO Global Centre For Traditional Medicine in Gujarat

“The centre we are launching will help harness the power of science to strengthen evidence-based traditional medicine,” the top WHO official added. The GCTM will prove to be a “powerful vehicle” to increase the contribution of traditional medicine in the national healthcare system, something not yet fully realised amid challenges faced due to the lack of systemic data and evidence, insufficient financial support for research and inadequate mechanism to monitor the safety of its practice, Dr Ghebreyesus said.

While the examples of traditional remedies being turned into modern medicines abound, a lot requires to be done to have these products identified, developed and tested and their benefits shared with the communities that nurture them, he said. “The centre will focus on evidence, data, sustainability and innovation to support national policies and optimise the use of traditional medicines for health and well-being all over the world,” Ghebreyesus said.

The importance of respecting local resources and rights, including sharing intellectual property with local communities, will be crucial for the centre’s mission, the WHO director-general said. The Centre will support countries carry out research and expand their knowledge base through clinical trials and new holistic research methods, he added. The WHO aims to help countries integrate traditional medicine into the modern health system, especially at the primary healthcare level, he said.

“In an ideal world, traditional medicine would be an option, a choice offered by a well-functioning people-centred health system that balances curative services with preventive care in harmony with natural environments,” he said. Traditional medicine is also a part of the growing trillion dollar global health, wellness, beauty and pharmaceutical industry, he said, adding that the WHO’s Covid-19 research database has over 2,500 citations on traditional medicine, among the top five downloaded on WHO websites, Dr Ghebreyesus noted. 

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