WHO Seeks More Efforts To Integrate Traditional Medicine Into Orthodox Health Systems

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, says efforts are being made to conserve medicinal plants to ensure quality raw materials are available and abundant.

Dr. Moeti who stated this in her message to mark African Traditional Medicine Day 2021, that WHO and other multilateral organizations are playing key roles in supporting capacity development in the traditional medicine sector, including the development of local manufacturing.

According to her, ”More work is needed to integrate traditional medicine into orthodox health systems and to strengthen partnerships and mobilize resources, particularly for research and development.”

On 31 August, we celebrate African Traditional Medicine Day to promote the important role of the continent’s rich biodiversity of medicinal plants and herbs in improving well-being.

For generations, the vast majority of people across the continent have relied on traditional medicine as the main source of their health care needs, as it is trusted, acceptable, affordable, and accessible.

Now as part of the COVID-19 response, promising traditional medicine therapies are emerging. In Cameroon for example, the Ministry of Health has approved two products as complementary therapies for COVID-19. Madagascar’s herbal remedy, COVID-Organics Plus Curative, is in phase III trials, and encouraging preliminary results have been reported. We look forward to the final results of this trial, and of trials underway for different products in 12 other African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa.

With the support of national and district authorities, traditional health practitioners are also leading the charge in building buy-in for COVID-19 prevention measures and referring patients for timely care. This is contributing to strengthening and building confidence in health systems throughout Africa.

At the highest levels, the pandemic has improved awareness of the value of traditional medicine. Investing more in research and development will contribute to harnessing homegrown solutions to improve well-being on the continent, and in other parts of the world.

Dr. Moeti noted that WHO, the African Union Commission, and Africa CDC jointly launched the Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicine for COVID-19 Response last year.

“This Committee is accelerating the pace of research by supporting countries to collaborate on clinical trials of traditional medicines in line with international standards.”

Natural remedies are burgeoning in popularity in western countries and have a long history in China, India, and other places. Major pharmaceutical companies are also looking to Africa for new active ingredients. With the right partnerships and investments, tried-and-tested African traditional medicines could find a broad global market.

WHO and other multilateral organizations are playing key roles in supporting capacity development in the traditional medicine sector, including the development of local manufacturing.

Recently, we looked back on the progress achieved in the Second Decade of African Traditional Medicine from 2011 to 2020 and in the implementation of the Regional Strategy on Enhancing the Role of Traditional Medicine in Health Systems 2013–2023.

“Our evaluation shows that 40 African countries now have policy frameworks for traditional medicine, up from only eight in the year 2000”. she said.

So, on this African Traditional Medicine Day, I call on governments, research institutions, practitioners, and the private sector to strengthen collaboration around traditional medicine research and production.

Let’s work together to identify and expand access to safe, efficacious, and quality traditional medicines to improve well-being and save lives.

Communities have been mobilized to participate in raising awareness of the value of traditional medicine. Capacities of researchers, traditional health practitioners, and national regulatory authorities have been built through training in partnership with WHO, Africa CDC and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership. 

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