Exploring Traditional Medicine

December 11, 2017 AT 09:10 AM
Beijing, China

As healthcare costs in many countries are soaring, traditional medicine continues to be practiced, especially in developing countries, often with a long history of written prescriptions and other methodologies, as in traditional Chinese medicine and the Indian Ayurveda system, among others. There is a lot that can be learned, therefore, from these effective but potentially more economical health solutions.

Indeed, millions of people, especially in low and middle-income countries, do not have access to conventional medical care. Instead, they rely on a rich culture of traditional medical practices. In addition, it is estimated that about one-quarter of so-called ‘modern medicines’ are derived from plants used by traditional medical practitioners. Investigating traditional medicines, therefore, can help identify novel compounds that could lead to new pharmaceutical products.

In recent years, against a background of a changing spectrum of diseases and the demographic shift towards ageing societies, traditional medicine is receiving increasing attention worldwide. Building on this, as well as an initial World Health Organization (WHO) traditional medicine strategy (2002-2005), certain countries have moved towards integrating traditional and complementary medicine into their national healthcare services.

Much more needs to be done, however. In September 2015, world leaders signed up to a series of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the third of which calls for “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.”

Traditional medicine – as used by millions of people worldwide who do not have access to or who cannot afford ‘Western’ or ‘allopathic’ medicine – can play a large part in reaching this goal by the target date of 2030. However, according to the WHO, a significant challenge to the wider integration of traditional medical practices into ‘mainstream’ medical care is the lack of scientific data and evidence to support its development.  

A better understanding of the scientific basis of traditional medicine practices, including their safety and effectiveness, will therefore be useful in exploring the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of human disease and the sustainability of human health.

In order to promote the scientific study of traditional medicine – and answering calls made at the 67th World Health Assembly (2014) for the promotion of international cooperation and collaboration in the sharing of evidence-based information in the area of traditional medicine – the IAP for Health Executive Committee (EC) agreed to establish the ‘Exploring Traditional Medicine’ project. The project centred on an international symposium organized in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) and with the support of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (CACMS), attended by some 200 researchers, practitioners, administrators of healthcare institutions and students from China.

Case studies presented at the symposium were edited into non-technical versions, making them accessible to a wider audience, and published as ‘Exploring Traditional medicine: Report of a Symposium’.