April 13, 2024

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Charting an evidence-based roadmap for WHO Global Traditional Medicine Centre collaborations

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21 March 2024 — Experts from over 40 countries across all 6 WHO regions – researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, community organizations, and WHO staff – came together in New Delhi and Jamnagar, India to prioritize collaborations of the WHO Global Traditional Medicine Centre (GTMC) towards the health and well-being of people and the planet.  

Opening the meeting, Dr Saima Wazed, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia (SEARO) said, “We, at SEAR look forward to contributing to the outcomes of this GTMC meeting, which will provide guidance on implementing the Summit’s Gujarat Declaration with workstreams of traditional medicine in research and evidence; ICD-11 based data for primary health care and universal health coverage, indigenous knowledges and biodiversity: and digital health applications, including the all-important development of an evidence-based traditional medicine global knowledge bank that world leaders have called for.” 

Dr Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary, Ministry of Ayush, Government of India spoke at the opening session welcoming international participants to India. He underlined the host country’s continued commitment to the WHO GTMC as a global good, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam – the world is one family. We look forward collaborating with the Centre and with experts from across the world on advancing research methodologies for traditional medicine, advocating for the integration of traditional medicine into national healthcare systems, and utilizing technology and innovation to preserve traditional knowledge and practices,” he said. 

TMC expert coordination meeting in March2024 - Expert panel session

The GTMC external advisory group members reflected on progress made over the past two years and advised on the need to prioritize and translate the evidence-informed action agenda from the Gujarat Declaration into implementation and impact.

The global community has acknowledged the potential that traditional medicine offers to accelerate progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goal for universal health coverage by 2030.  

“More than half the world’s population does not have access to essential health services”, noted Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage, Life course. One in 4 people suffered financial hardship or incurred catastrophic expenditures to access health services. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the fragility of health systems worldwide, with more than 90% of countries reporting interruptions to essential health service delivery. 

“There are millions of accredited traditional medicine professionals and facilities that could significantly scale up national health systems capacities. And we need a stronger evidence base—as a foundational WHO priority—to enable countries to develop appropriate regulations and policies around traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine to ensure safe and effective use and equitable access to benefits,” Dr Aylward added.  

At WHA 76, Member States requested the development of a new WHO TM strategy 2025-2034. Dr Kim, WHO TCI unit head presented the strategy draft and milestones requesting all stakeholders’ inputs.

A GTMC-supported mapping of systematic reviews showed the rapidly increasing rate of research publications in traditional medicine over the past years, and its increasing use for digestive health, chronic and acute pain management, mental health and other conditions. Some regions and countries are publishing more research papers than others (for example, a large proportion of the articles are published in China, Korea, and Iran, among others).  

Reviewing GTMC collaborations on research, meeting participants emphasized that conventional research methods needed to evolve to be valid and relevant in studying personalized, holistic traditional medicine approaches, which is the direction of future healthcare overall. Methods for respectful knowledge exchange with Indigenous Peoples and investments for stewardship of our planet’s biodiversity also are a critical need. 

Experts emphasized the need and interest in evolving the global knowledge base, including through the development of a traditional medicine global library with regional and country sections. This needs to be supported by a framework of intellectual property and other rights to ensure fair and equitable access and benefits. 

Mr Wend Wendland from WIPO updated participants on a Diplomatic Conference in May 2024 to conclude negotiations on a new international legal instrument requiring patent applications to document genetic sources and associated use in traditional knowledge. This would have wide ranging effects for efficiency, transparency, quality and equity of patent systems.

“This meeting highlights the value of the WHO Global Traditional Medicine Centre in facilitating collaborations from around the world”, said Dr Shyama Kuruvilla, Director ai. of the Centre. “By bringing together the best of ancient wisdom, modern science, biodiversity resources, and technological advances, we can amplify our collective efforts for the health and well-being of all people and the planet.” 

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