Traditional medicine is the first treatment option used by large groups of the world’s population. The World Health Organization estimates that it is practiced in nine out of ten countries. Among the methods used: medicinal herbs, acupuncture, yoga, in addition to many different local treatments. Practices that have served as pillars of health in societies on all continents for centuries, and continue to be a basic necessity for millions of people, many of whom do not have access to traditional medicine, which is generally more expensive and therefore more restrictive. On the other hand, this ancient wisdom laid the foundations for the great classical texts of medical science. Many of the natural ingredients traditional medicine uses have made possible the modern pharmaceutical, beauty, wellness, and health industries. According to the World Health Organization, more than 40% of pharmaceutical products today are made from alcohol supplies
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natural. Reference medicines, such as aspirin and artemisinin, have ancient roots.
- Indigenous peoples claim their right to health through their ancestral roots. Photo: Bahu
However, the contribution of traditional medicine to national health systems is not yet fully integrated. In many nations, recognition and appreciation for the millions of workers, facilities, expenditures, and products associated with traditional medicine is an outstanding issue.
For the World Health Organization, traditional medicine “is the sum total of all the knowledge, skills and practices based on the specific theories, beliefs and experiences of different cultures, whether explicable or not, that are used in the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental illness.” “
For its part, “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine” includes a wide range of health practices that are not part of traditional medicine and that are not fully integrated into the national health system. In many scientific fields, it is already known to use a unique concept of traditional and complementary medicine.
Global reference center
In March 2022, with the aim of revitalizing and institutionalizing the contribution of traditional medical and therapeutic knowledge, the World Health Organization took a step as tangible as it was transcendent: the establishment of the Global Center in the city of Jamnagar, in the same state of Gujarat. traditional medicine, giving the Government of India an initial investment of $250 million (https://www.who.int/es/news/item/25-03-2022-who-enteres-the-global-centre-for-traditional-medicine-in-india).
- WHO strategy on traditional medicine 2014-2023
Through this initiative, the World Health Organization seeks to benefit, using modern science and technology, from the possibilities provided by traditional medicine to improve comprehensive health care worldwide. This center should coordinate the cooperation, information, biodiversity and innovation needed to maximize the contribution of traditional medicine to global health, universal health coverage and sustainable development. Respect for indigenous rights, as well as local resources, is an essential part of the Centre’s framework.
WHO is collecting evidence and data to guide policies, standards and regulations for the safe, cost-effective and equitable use of traditional medicine, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted in his opening remarks at the India summit. Who also acknowledged that “traditional medicine has contributed greatly to human health and has enormous potential.” He cited, for example, the use of composite Origin
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of sweet wormwood or artemisinin for the treatment of malaria.
According to Ghebreyesus, one of the strongest foundations of traditional medicine is understanding “the close links between human health and our environment.” He said that traditional, complementary and integrative medicine is of particular importance for preventing and treating non-communicable diseases and protecting mental health, as well as ensuring healthy ageing.
- The practice of yoga incorporates many different alternative therapeutic activities. Photo: Anupam Mahapatra. United nations
During the summit sessions, Ghebreyesus launched three challenges to the international community. First, all countries commit to determining how best to integrate traditional and complementary medicine into their national health systems. They also make concrete recommendations, based on strong arguments and evidence, that can serve as a basis for developing the next global strategy for traditional medicine. And third, they see this event as a springboard “to foster a global movement that unleashes the potential of traditional medicine through science and innovation.” (https://www.who.int/es/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-who-traditional-medicine-global-summit—17-august -2023).
Latin America and the Caribbean were present at the India summit. Other delegations included the Virtual Health Library (Traditional Complementary and Integrative Medicines) and the MTCI Americas Network (https://mtci.bvsalud.org/), and is closely associated with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Strategic vision and open discussion
This sector of health activity is not a new area for WHO. In 2014, Member States have already approved the first global strategy on traditional medicine for a period of ten years. The World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2023 extended this strategy for an additional two years and decided to develop a new strategy for the decade 2025-2034 (https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/95008/9789243506098_spa.pdf).
The current strategy outlines traditional medicine products, practices and professions. Products include botanicals, herbal preparations, and others that contain active botanical ingredients.
In some countries, herbal medicines traditionally contain natural, organic or inorganic active ingredients, such as those of animal or mineral origin.
Practices include herbal medicine, naturopathy, and acupuncture, as well as manual therapies such as chiropractic and osteopathy. In addition to techniques such as qi gong, tai chi, yoga, medical spa and other physical, mental and spiritual therapies.
- Homeopathy is an alternative medicine that is already recognized in many countries. Photo: World Health Organization
In terms of experts who can practice traditional medicine, they are specialists in traditional and complementary medicine, as well as traditional health (doctors, dentists, nurse-midwives, pharmacists) and physiotherapists who provide alternative services to their patients.
For WHO, the primary challenge is to promote universal health coverage by integrating traditional complementary medicine services into the provision of health services, prevention and self-care. There are no longer any doubts: traditional and complementary medicine is safe and effective, and its inclusion in universal health coverage plans could expand it well beyond its current limits and reduce its costs significantly. Both arguments should encourage countries to incorporate this option into their health plans. At present, only 124 countries have laws or regulations in this regard.
Although complementary and alternative medicine emerged stronger from the India Summit, it will remain at the center of the unresolved debate. Their opponents, often linked to the core interests of the health sector, argue that there are no scientific arguments for some alternative therapies. While its defenders claim contributions of ancestral knowledge and question the tendency in the West to see health as a business rather than an essential public service.