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WHO & traditional medicine

  • Published
    19th Apr, 2022

PM Narendra Modi and WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus will perform the groundbreaking ceremony of the Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in Jamnagar.


What is traditional medicine?

  • The WHO describes traditional medicine as the total sum of the “knowledge, skills and practices indigenous and different cultures have used over time to maintain health and prevent, diagnose and treat physical and mental illness”.
  • According to WHO, its reach encompasses ancient practices such as acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine and herbal mixtures as well as modern medicines.
  • Traditional medicine in India is often defined as including practices and therapies such as yoga, Ayurveda, Siddha that have been part of Indian tradition historically, as well as others such as homeopathy that became part of Indian tradition over the years.
    • Ayurveda and yoga are practised widely across the country;
    • the Siddha system is followed predominantly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala;
    • the Sowa-Rigpa system is practised mainly in Leh-Ladakh and Himalayan regions such as Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Darjeeling, Lahaul & Spiti

About Global Centre for Traditional Medicine:

  • The WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) is a knowledge centre for traditional medicine.
  • The global knowledge centre for traditional medicine is supported by an investment of USD 250 million from the Government of India.
  • It aims to harness the potential of traditional medicine from across the world through modern science and technology to improve the health of people and the planet.
  • The new centre focuses on four main strategic areas:
    • evidence and learning;
    • data and analytics;
    • sustainability and equity; and
    • innovation and technology
  • Its aim is to optimize the contribution of traditional medicine to global health and sustainable development.
  • The GCTM will aim to focus on evidence-based research, innovation, and data analysis to optimise the contribution of traditional medicine to global health.
  • Its main focus will to develop norms, standards and guidelines in technical areas relating to traditional medicine.

Why has the WHO felt the need to advance knowledge of traditional medicine?

  • The WHO says 170 of its 194 WHO Member States have reported the use of traditional medicine, and these member states have asked for its support in creating a body of “reliable evidence and data on traditional medicine practices and products”.
  • It says the Jamnagar centre will serve as the hub, and focus on building a “solid evidence base” for policies and “help countries integrate it as appropriate into their health systems”.

Challenges faced by traditional medicine:

  • National health systems and strategies do not yet fully integrate traditional medicine workers, accredited courses and health facilities.
  • The WHO has stressed the need to conserve biodiversity and sustainability as about 40% of approved pharmaceutical products today derive from natural substances.
    • For example, the discovery of aspirin drew on traditional medicine formulations using the bark of the willow tree.
    • The contraceptive pill was developed from the roots of wild yam plants and
    • child cancer treatments have been based on the rosy periwinkle
  • The WHO has referred to modernisation of the ways traditional medicine is being studied.
    • Artificial intelligence is now used to map evidence and trends in traditional medicine.
    • Functional magnetic resonance imaging is used to study brain activity and the relaxation response that is part of some traditional medicine therapies such as meditation and yoga.
  • The WHO has said traditional medicine is also being extensively updated by mobile phone apps, online classes, and other technologies.
    • The GCTM will serve as a hub for other countries, and build standards on traditional medicine practices and products.

Earlier collaborations:

  • In 2016, the Ministry of AYUSH signed a project collaboration agreement (PCA) with the WHO in the area of traditional medicine.
    • The aim was to create benchmarks for training in yoga, Ayurveda, Unani and Panchakarma, for traditional medicine practitioners.
    • The collaboration also aimed at promoting the quality and safety of traditional medicine and consumer protection by supporting WHO in the development and implementation of the WHO Traditional and Complementary Medicine Strategy.
  • A constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-Institute of Himalayan Bio-resource Technology (CSIR-IHBT), Palampur has signed an MoU with National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Taiwan.
    • It aims to collaborate in areas of mutual interest, which include medicinal plants, bioactive molecules, and, herbal formulations etc.
  • Also, the CSIR and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have signed a MoU to identify opportunities for scientific and technological research between researchers within and outside India, including collaborations with foundation-funded entities in the areas including traditional medicine as well as beyond.
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