Traditional medicines are a “first port of call for millions of people around the world”, the UN health agency said, with the talks in India bringing together policymakers and academics aimed at “mobilizing commitment evidence-based policy and action” towards them.
“WHO is working to bring together evidence and data to inform policies, standards and regulations for the safe, cost-effective and equitable use of traditional medicine,” said WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. , opening the vertex.
Traditional medicine could fill “gaps in access” to health care, but was only of value if used “appropriately, effectively and above all, safely based on the latest scientific evidence”, he said. warned Tedros earlier.
But the global health body has come under fire from online critics who accused it of providing scientific validation for pseudoscience after asking its followers in a post if they had used a range of treatments, including homeopathy and naturopathy.
The WHO later said in a post on social media platform X that it had heard the “concerns” and agreed that its “message could have been better articulated”.
The two-day WHO Global Traditional Medicine Summit is taking place alongside a meeting of G20 health ministers in the Indian city of Gandhinagar.
“We have to face a very important fact of real life, which is that traditional medicines are very widely used,” Nobel laureate and WHO Scientific Council Chairman Harold Varmus said at the summit. by video link.
“It’s important to understand what ingredients are actually in traditional medicines, why they work in certain cases…and most importantly, we need to understand and identify which traditional medicines don’t work.”
The summit, set to become a regular event, follows the opening last year of a WHO World Center for Traditional Medicine, also in the Indian state of Gujarat.
Lack of regulatory oversight
Although traditional medicines are widely used in some parts of the world, they are also subject to strong criticism.
The United Nations health agency defines traditional medicine as the knowledge, skills and practices used over time to maintain health and to prevent, diagnose and treat physical and mental illness.
But many traditional treatments have no proven scientific value and conservationists say the industry is driving a rampant trade in endangered animals – including tigers, rhinos and pangolins – threatening existence. of whole species.
The use of home remedies has skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, including an herbal green drink made from Artemisia that has been promoted by the President of Madagascar as a cure.
The plant has proven efficacy in treating malaria, but its use to fight Covid has been widely scorned by many doctors.
In China, traditional medicine has a distinguished history, but major European medical bodies have previously demanded that it be subject to the same regulatory oversight as conventional medical methods.
“Scientific progress in the field of traditional medicine must be held to the same rigorous standards as in other areas of health,” WHO research director John Reeder said in a statement.
Of the 194 WHO member states, 170 recognized their use of traditional and complementary medicine since 2018, but only 124 said they had laws or regulations for the use of herbal medicines – while only the half had a national policy on these methods and drugs.
“Natural does not always mean safe, and centuries of use is no guarantee of effectiveness; therefore, a scientific method and process must be applied to provide the rigorous evidence required,” the WHO said.
About 40% of approved pharmaceuticals currently in use come from a “natural product base”, according to the WHO, which cited “blockbuster drugs” derived from traditional medicine, including aspirin, relying on willow bark formulations.