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Harnessing the power of traditional, complementary and integrative healthcare: What the World Health Organization should do

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Traditional, complementary, and integrative healthcare (TCIH) is a valuable but often underutilized resource. TCIH could both help address a range of global health issues – including non-communicable disease, cancer, and antimicrobial resistance – and contribute to universal access to healthcare. Guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) will be essential to ensure that TCIH is used to maximise public health benefits. The WHO is currently preparing its next 10-year strategy on TCIH, which will be finalised in 2025 and building on its current Traditional Medicine Strategy, 2014-2023. To feed into the upcoming 2025-2034 strategy, a new article from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Global Health outlines the critical issues that the WHO and its member states should address

“We are at a critical juncture with TCIH. It has the potential to be a pivotal tool in fighting current and future health challenges. It also offers a more human, person-centred approach to medicine,” said Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer. a pediatrician and the article’s lead author. “As the World Health Organization looks to its next strategy, it is an important moment to assess the lessons from the past and apply them to the future.”

Among the article’s key findings are:

  • There is a need for more research in TCIH: While there are 26,000 TCIH-related clinical trials mentioned in the Cochrane Central database, there are still gaps in needed data. There is a striking imbalance in countries asking for more data but failing to adequately invest in TCIH research – only 12 countries reported investing in such research. WHO should encourage investment and provide guidance on research designs to evaluate TCIH in its complexity.
  • WHO and countries should include safe and efficacious TCIH options in their prevention and treatment guidelines, drawing on evidence from the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases, including from integrative oncology, and the reduced antibiotic use in integrative practices.
  • Regulation of TCIH practitioners, practices and products is needed, to ensure accountability, generating trust and legitimacy. Yet only 78 countries currently do so for practitioners out of 170 that acknowledge national use of TCIH, despite a series of WHO benchmark documents available.
  • Product regulation has often been limited to herbal medicines: The WHO should support countries in establishing risk-based regulations for all TCIH products, considering their specific profile.
  • TCIH is needed for the reorientation of healthcare systems from a disease-centered to a person-centered model. The 37 countries of the WHO Western Pacific Region already agreed to integrate TCIH in their health system, providing a blue-print for other WHO member states.

The BMJ article was authored by a team representing the international TCIH Declaration, a global coalition of civil society organizations dedicated to promoting TCIH as an integral part of healthcare systems. The TCIH Declaration calls for the respectful collaboration between all health professionals with the aim of offering a holistic approach to health.

Article Reference:

von Schoen-Angerer T, Manchanda RK, Lloyd I, et al. Traditional, complementary and integrative healthcare: global stakeholder perspective on WHO’s current and future strategy. BMJ Glob Health 2023;0:e013150.


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