WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy and Activity


Choi Seung-hoon


Traditional & Complementary Medicine Exhibition 2007 (TCME 2007), Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia




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“Traditional medicine (TRM)” is a comprehensive term used to refer both to TRM systems such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayur vedic medicine and Unani medicine, and to various forma of indigenous medicine.  In countries where the dominant health care system is based on western medicine, or where TRM has not been incorporated into the national health care system, TRM is often termed “alternative”, “complementary” or “non¬conventional” medicine. Accordingly, “traditional medicine” is used when referring to Africa, Latin America, South-East Asia, and/or the Western Pacific, whereas “complementary and alternative medicine” is used when referring to Europe and/or North America (and Australia).  When referring in a general sense to all of these regions, the comprehensive TRM /CAM is used. In definition, “Traditional medicine is the knowledge, skills and practices of holistic healthcare, recognized and accepted for its role in the maintenance of health and the treatment of diseases. It is based on indigenous theories, beliefs and experiences that are handed down from generation to generation.” There are a number of major challenges of TRM, which can be summarized as 1) varying degree with which it is recognized by governments; 2) lack of sound scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of many of its therapies; 3) difficulties relating to the protection of indigenous TRM knowledge; and 4) problems in ensuring its proper use. To overcome the above-mentioned challenges, WPRO/TRM have evolved our foci of plan as policy, regulations, standards, clinical practice, researches, education and information under the theme of “Standardization with evidence-based approaches.” The roles of standards in traditional medicine are raising levels of quality, safety, reliability, efficiency and interchangeability of traditional medicine, and providing above benefits at an economical cost. The main reasons of WHO’s initiative on standardization come from its highest authoritative and reliable international organization in health issues and having wide experiences in international activities, while most of the Member States only have their respective initiatives and lack of experiences in international cooperation in traditional medicine. In connection with the theme of “Standardization with evidence-based approaches”, WHO/WPRO are on ducting a number of standardization projects in traditional medicine such as terminologies, acupuncture point locations, traditional medicine information including thesaurus, clinical ontology, classification and Western Pacific Regional Index Medicus, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines in traditional medicine for 28 priority diseases. Developing international standard terminologies (IST) in traditional medicine is the first step for the whole project of standardizations and, through two informal consultations and a Regional meeting; we have identified 3,543 terms. Recently, the WHO-IST including Chinese terms with English translation and definition has been published. To standardize the acupuncture point locations, over the last three years, we have convened ten consecutive meetings and successfully unified 92 controversial acupuncture point locations in Tsukuba, November 2006.  There will be a new textbook, charts and model based upon newly standardized acupuncture point locations in the near future. For promoting the proper use of traditional medicine, developing the evidence-based clinical practice guidelines in traditional medicine on priority diseases will be the core works. In selecting 28 priority diseases, there were four criteria used as basis, which can prove applying traditional medicine is more efficacious, cost-effective, affordable and beneficial for the population than just simple use of western modern medicine. Since the Declaration of Alma-Ata mentioned the role of traditional practitioners in the primary health care, WHO started to pay its attention to the traditional medicine. Almost three decades later, the Prince of Wales delivered his keynote speech in the 59th World Health Assembly with high appraisals on acupuncture and herbal medicine and recommended the 192 Member States to integrate TRM into their public health systems and to promote harmonization with western modern medicine. It shows how traditional medicine rapidly and intensively has strived and innovated in recent decades. WHO traditional medicine strategy and activities will secure the proper use of traditional medicine aiming at “Health for All”, the goal of WHO.