Every year on 31 August, the African Region commemorates the African Traditional Medicine Day. The theme of this year’s celebration is: Integration of Traditional Medicine in Health Systems in the African Region: The Journey So Far. This theme is in line with the World Health Organization’s vision of integrating traditional medicine into all areas of health care services, based on their safety, efficacy and quality.
Recognizing that Member States have different legislation, approaches, regulatory responsibilities, delivery models related to primary health care; as well as unique profiles of traditional medicine, there is no one model that fits to all. Therefore, each Member State has made efforts towards a common aim of integrating traditional medicine into its national health system based on national capacities, priorities, relevant legislation and circumstances, and on their safety, efficacy and quality. In the past 16 years, a majority of the countries in the African Region have made commendable achievements; and traditional medicine has been included, although not fully integrated into all aspects of health care.
Since 2000, the number of countries with traditional medicine policies has risen from 8 to 40 and the number of countries with traditional medicine programmes has surged from 10 to 36. Research institutes dedicated to traditional medicine have also increased from 18 to 28. Consequently, 14 countries have issued marketing authorizations of some traditional medicine products used for the treatment of priority diseases as compared to only one in 2000. In an effort to improve skills of the health workforce, 19 countries have integrated traditional medicine in the curricula of health science students, whereas the number of countries with regulations for traditional health practitioners has surged from 1 to 31.
Over the past years, collaboration between conventional and traditional health practitioners has been strengthened as countries continue to integrate traditional health practitioners into mainstream primary health care. In some countries, such as Benin and Cote d’Ivoire, traditional medicine facilities have been established; in Mali, Senegal, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, practitioners collaborate in research, diagnosis, treatment, care and patient counselling. In 2010, Ghana’s Ministry of Health designated 18 public hospitals to integrate the use of herbal components of African traditional medicine into their daily practice.
Although progress has been made, much more can be done to ensure that all countries in the region integrate traditional medicine practitioners, practices and products into all areas of health care services, when there is evidence on safety, efficacy and quality. Some of the major challenges hindering progress include deficiencies in appropriate regulation of practices and practitioners; monitoring and implementation of regulation on products; appropriate integration of traditional medicine services into health care service delivery and self-health care; and limited evidence-based assessment of the safety, efficacy and quality of practices and products.
As part of efforts to support countries, WHO has mobilized additional resources from partners and established a WHO Regional Expert Committee as a regional mechanism to support the effective monitoring and evaluation of the progress made in the implementation of the Regional Traditional Medicine Strategy. In addition, WHO developed a range of tools and guidelines covering the priority interventions needed to integrate safe, effective and good quality traditional medicine into all areas of health care services. These include tools for institutionalizing traditional medicine in health systems; guidelines for: regulation of traditional medicine practitioners, practices and products; registration of traditional medicines; clinical study of traditional medicines; and for the protection of traditional medical knowledge. In addition, collaboration between practitioners of traditional and conventional medicine; modules on traditional medicine for health sciences students and conventional medicine practitioners; and for traditional health practitioners in primary health care have also been developed.
As we commemorate African Traditional Medicine Day 2017, I call upon relevant regulatory authorities to enhance regulation of traditional medicine practitioners, practices and products. I urge governments to invest in biomedical and operational research aimed at expanding the scope of accepted best practices of
traditional medicine in national health systems. I finally call for stronger collaboration between governments, donors, the private sector and relevant stakeholders to take forward the integration of traditional medicine in health systems. These actions will ensure appropriate integration of traditional medicine into health systems to contribute to achieving universal health coverage and sustainable development goals.
I have no doubt that enhanced collaboration between the two types of practitioners will increase transparency and complementarity, mutual respect and understanding and research. It will also facilitate more efficient use of domestic medical resources; enhance self-sufficiency in health development especially for low income countries and stronger integration of traditional medicine into health system.
I take this opportunity to congratulate traditional health practitioners, researchers and experts who are making contribution to integrate traditional medicine into health systems; and WHO will continue to support this integration particularly into primary health care services.
I wish you a successful celebration.