The World Health Organization opened its first summit on traditional medicine on Thursday, with the organization’s aim centered on gathering substantial evidence and data to facilitate the secure utilization of such treatments.
According to the UN health agency, traditional medicines serve as a “primary recourse for millions across the globe.” The discussions in India have brought together policymakers and scholars with the objective of fostering “political commitment and evidence-driven initiatives” towards these remedies.
WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus inaugurated the summit by emphasizing the organization’s commitment to establishing a foundation of evidence and data to inform policies, standards, and regulations that guarantee the secure, cost-efficient, and just utilization of traditional medicine.
While traditional medicine has the potential to bridge gaps in healthcare accessibility, Tedros cautioned that its value is contingent upon its proper, effective, and above all, safe application based on current scientific evidence.
However, the WHO has faced criticism online, accused of conferring scientific credibility to pseudoscience. This criticism followed a social media post in which the WHO inquired whether followers had employed a variety of treatments, including homoeopathy and naturopathy. Responding to the concerns, the WHO acknowledged that its message could have been more precisely communicated.
Taking place alongside a gathering of G20 health ministers in Gandhinagar, India, the two-day WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit aspires to be a recurring event. Last year, the WHO established a Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in India’s Gujarat state.
Despite their widespread use in certain regions, traditional medicines also encounter strong opposition. The WHO defines traditional medicine as accumulated knowledge, skills, and practices utilized over time to uphold health and avert, diagnose, and treat physical and mental ailments.
Nonetheless, many traditional remedies lack scientifically verified efficacy, and conservationists assert that this industry drives an illicit trade in endangered species, endangering entire populations of creatures like tigers, rhinos, and pangolins.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the increased utilization of homemade remedies, including a green herbal concoction based on Artemisia, promoted by Madagascar’s president as a cure. While the plant has proven effective in treating malaria, its application against COVID-19 was widely criticized by medical professionals.
In China, traditional medicine boasts a storied history, but European medical bodies have previously urged for it to be subject to the same rigorous regulatory scrutiny as conventional medical methods.
John Reeder, the head of WHO research, emphasized that the advancement of traditional medicine’s scientific underpinnings should be held to the same rigorous standards as other healthcare fields.
Among the WHO’s 194 member states, 170 have acknowledged their use of traditional and complementary medicine since 2018. However, only 124 have reported having laws or regulations governing the use of herbal medicines. About 40 percent of approved pharmaceutical products in current use are derived from natural sources, according to the WHO. This includes “landmark drugs” like aspirin, which originally harnessed formulations from willow tree bark.
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