The first World Summit on Traditional Medicine will be held in Gandhinagar, India, in conjunction with a meeting of G20 health ministers. Organized jointly by the World Health Organization and the Indian government, the meeting aims to highlight the vast potential of traditional medicine in resolving urgent health-related problems, as well as increasing the well-being of populations and respecting our planet.
For centuries, traditional, indigenous and ancestral knowledge has been an important part of healthcare in many parts of the world. For many countries, it represents an important part of the healthcare economy, and for millions of people, it is the only available source of health care.
On the initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and India, the first World Summit on Traditional Medicine will be held on August 17 and 18 in Gandhinagar, the Indian city created in the 1960s in tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, the national hero of independence. The Gujarat region is a hub for medical tourism and the pharmaceutical sector, which is why India's Minister of Health, Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, said he hoped the event would open up new investment prospects in the field. The meeting is an integral part of the G20 meeting of health ministers, which India has chaired since last December. In 2022, WHO had already secured the support of the Indian government to create the first Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in response to growing global interest. This knowledge facility focuses on partnership, evidence, biodiversity and innovation. Its aim is to optimize the contribution of traditional medicine to global health.
Inclusion of traditional medicine
In 2019, at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, the participating Heads of State and Government recognized the need to include, in a complementary way, traditional medicine services. Traditional medicine plays an important role in the culture, health and well-being of many communities around the world. In 170 of the 194 WHO member states, the use of herbal medicines, acupuncture, yoga, indigenous therapies and other forms of traditional medicine is a reality. According to the organization, around 40% of pharmaceuticals are now made from a natural product, and leading medicines are derived from traditional medicine, such as aspirin, artemisinin and treatments for childhood cancer. Traditional medicine is recognized as a valuable source of care, and is often already integrated into national health systems alongside my modern medicine.
Africa has a traditional medicine that has been effective for centuries. It plays an important role as an alternative or complement to local health care. The continent has more than 89 medicines derived from traditional pharmacopoeia in 14 countries, for which the WHO has supported research and development leading to marketing authorization. Some 40 of these medicines are also on national essential drug lists, and are now part of the arsenal for treating patients suffering from a wide range of illnesses, including HIV-related infections, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and hypertension. According to WHO-Afro's regional advisor for traditional medicine, Dr Ossy Kasilo, "the large-scale manufacture and marketing of medicines derived from traditional pharmacopoeia, which involve the cultivation of medicinal plants as well as the harvesting and post-harvesting processes, offer advantages in terms of socio-economic development". In 2020, WHO and the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Africa) launched an Expert Advisory Committee to provide independent scientific support and advice to countries on the safety, efficacy and quality of traditional medicine therapies in the face of Covid-19.
Participants in the Traditional Medicine Summit include Ministers of Health from over 40 countries, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros and his agency's Regional Directors, and guests from the international organization's six regions. The event will bring together traditional medicine practitioners, users and communities, national decision-makers, international organizations, as well as representatives from academia, the private sector and civil society. It will be an opportunity to share best practices, data and innovations highlighting the contribution of traditional medicine to health and sustainable development.
The aim of the event is to establish a roadmap for intensifying scientific advances in traditional medicine systems and practices. Topics will include research, data, regulation, clinical practice, innovation, digital health, biodiversity and conservation, and equitable benefit sharing. In future, a summit on traditional medicine will be held every two years in one of the different WHO regions.