RD’s Address at the 6th Health Ministers’ Meeting

16 December 2016, New Delhi, India

H.E. Shri Jagat Prakash Nadda, Minister of Health & Family Welfare,

H.E. Shri Shripad Yesso Naik, Minister of State for AYUSH,

Ministers and senior officials from BRICS countries,

The BRICS platform provides opportunities for the world’s leading developing countries to raise issues of common concern, and to find solutions of common value.

In the area of public health, harnessing this opportunity is exciting, and something we must continue to work towards.

The Beijing Declaration of 2011, for example, emphasized the importance of health-related technology transfer. It also highlighted the important role of generic medicines in the realization of the right to health, and called for establishing priorities in research and development.

The Joint Delhi Communiqué of 2013 built on this momentum, and expanded BRICS’ range of concerns. The Communique stressed the need to strengthen health surveillance systems, and underscored the importance of reducing NCD risk factors through health promotion among other interventions.

These initiatives are making a difference in the lives of billions of people. They are also setting a positive example for public health policy the world over.

It has been immensely encouraging to see BRICS’ focus on public health continue. The theme of the most recent BRICS summit in Goa – ‘Building responsive, inclusive and collective solutions’ – is an expression of this commitment. Indeed, BRICS’ focus on inclusivity will help make universal health coverage a reality, and ensure that no one is left behind.

As part of this, the push to establish the BRICS Wellness Index is praiseworthy. As you are acutely aware, development means so much more than GDP indices, and must instead embrace the full spectrum of human health and wellbeing. In this regard, BRICS’ broad vision is inspiring, and has much to offer the world’s people and their governments.

One area in which BRICS is well placed to have an impact is in ensuring the safety and efficacy of traditional and alternative medicines. Indeed, traditional medicine has been a part of health and wellbeing in BRICS countries for many thousands of years, and remains highly relevant to the lives of billions of people worldwide.

In WHO South-East Asia Region, where one-fourth of the world’s population resides, traditional medicine is perceived as safe, accessible and affordable, and as having minimal side effects. Indeed, traditional medicine has a vital role to play in advancing health and wellbeing in this Region, in BRICS countries and across the world.

Excellencies,

As outlined in the WHO traditional medicine strategy adopted in May 2014, when traditional medicine services are integrated with existing health systems and made easily accessible and affordable, they can enhance a health care system’s performance. Importantly, they can do so in a way that promotes health-seeking behaviour and reinforces positive health care experiences.

But to make this happen, comprehensive regulations governing the safety and quality of traditional and alternative medicines must be created and enforced. Safety should be fundamental to the provision of any treatment or procedure.

Countries that produce traditional and alternative medicines have the opportunity to take a leadership role in this process. Not only will greater regulation ensure that products are safe and effective, but it will also inspire confidence among consumers. At the same time, unscrupulous producers will be barred from entering the market.

In South-East Asia, several initiatives aimed at achieving these outcomes have occurred in recent years.

In 2013 the ‘International Conference on Traditional Medicine for South-East Asian Countries’ was held in New Delhi. The Conference was jointly organized by the Government of India and WHO South-East Asia, and resulted in the adoption of the Delhi Declaration. Among other things, the Delhi Declaration called for the harmonized regulation of traditional medicines.

In October 2015 WHO held a Regional meeting in DPR Korea focused on how best to monitor and evaluate the performance of traditional medicine systems. At this meeting Member States again highlighted the importance of strengthening regulatory systems for traditional medicine products, particularly with regard to developing national adverse event reporting systems.

And just last month the 9th Annual meeting of International Regulatory Cooperation for Herbal medicine was held in New Delhi, where IRCH Member States recommended strengthening international cooperation to ensure the safety and integrity of products and to guard against them being substandard or adulterated.

Similar initiatives by BRICS can help advance the visibility of traditional medicines at the global level.

While noting the importance of regulating traditional and alternative medicines, I also want to stress the opportunity we have to make this part of a wider push to enhance the quality and reach of health care services.

The BRICS cooperation agenda in health, for example, could bring together technical experts on drug discovery & development – including with regards to traditional medicine – to address the multiple epidemiological challenges BRICS countries face. Other areas of co-operation could include human resource development of young scientists, for example, or the conversion of traditional medicine knowledge into hard science through validation procedures.

Besides supporting R&D efforts, overcoming existing inefficiencies in the supply and logistical management of drugs would also help improve access to essential medicines. We have a number of existing communiques and declarations that identify emergent needs and make clear recommendations, and I am sure that deliberations at this conference will examine them further.

In implementing such plans, BRICS countries are fortunate to have at their disposal the New Development Bank, which was formed with the stated vision of supporting and fostering infrastructure and sustainable development initiatives in emerging economies. BRICS countries, as well as countries across the South-East Asia Region, now have an excellent opportunity to fill the gaps between ‘needs’ and ‘funding’.

WHO’s support and technical expertise is at your disposal. WHO is pleased to assist in enhancing regional and global cooperation in strengthening the safety and efficacy of traditional medicines, and in enhancing health coverage more broadly. WHO South-East Asia looks forward to further joint learning opportunities.

By working closely with one another, and updating each other on our respective initiatives, we can accelerate progress and advance the health and wellbeing of billions of people across the world. In doing so, we can also create a new template for effective public health cooperation, diplomacy and action.

Thank you very much.

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