Three Years Ago WHO Head Backs Role of Traditional Medicine in Primary Health Care

BEIJING, Nov. 7, 2007 (Xinhua) — The role of traditional medicine in primary health care should be highlighted, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said here on Friday.

Thirty years ago, the WHO Alma-Ata Declaration recognized the role of traditional medicine practitioners within the primary health care system at the community level, Chan said at the opening ceremony of the WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine. “As a result, the significance and use of traditional medicine has increased in the past three decades.”

For millions of people living in rural areas of developing countries, herbal medicines, traditional treatments and traditional practitioners were the main and sometimes the only source of health care, she said.

“This is care that is close to homes, accessible and affordable. In some systems of traditional medicine, such as traditional Chinese medicine, traditional practices are supported by wisdom and experience acquired over centuries,” she said.

Traditional medicine has been proven as cheap, effective and acceptable in many developing countries’ primary health care systems, Chan said.

She noted, however, that an undesirable trend had also occurred in affluent societies, in the popularity of treatments and remedies that complement orthodox medicine or sometimes serve as an alternative to conventional treatments.

In North America and Europe, traditional medicine has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that was expected to continue growing rapidly, Chan said.

“This is not the poor man’s alternative to conventional care; this trend has some dangers.”

Chan called for all WHO members to bring traditional and Western medicine together in highly effective ways in the primary health care system. She said the two systems need not clash.

The three-day congress, hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Health and the State Administration of Traditional Medicine, has drawn more than 1,100 participants from 80 countries and regions.

A legacy of the congress will be the “Beijing Declaration”, which is scheduled to be published on Nov. 8 after it is agreed on by participating WHO members

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