International Symposium on Traditional and Complementary Medicines

23 November 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena, Excellency Minister of Health, Nutrition & Indigenous Medicine, Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Honourable Ministers from other Departments, Dignitaries, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I join the Government of Sri Lanka in welcoming you to this international symposium on a subject so dear to many of our hearts: traditional and complementary medicine.

I especially thank the Government of Sri Lanka for organizing this event, and putting the spotlight on traditional and complementary medicine.

It is heartening to note that Sri Lanka has around 20 000 registered Ayurvedic physicians, and over 8000 Traditional Medical Practitioners. Indeed, in Sri Lanka traditional medicine continues to flourish, helping to improve and maintain the health and wellbeing of millions of people. In Asia almost 80% of people in rural areas use some form of traditional medicine. For some, this is their main or only source of health care. Many others use it to complement modern health practices, especially for managing lifestyle-related chronic conditions.

Traditional medicine is, therefore, a natural ally in our pursuit of universal coverage, and an important means to create positive health care experiences.

WHO fully supports the drive to integrate traditional medicine into health systems Region-wide. It is encouraging to learn that in Sri Lanka, Ayurvedic Community Medical Officers are actively involved in school awareness programmes on medicinal plants, and in ayurvedic measures for controlling non-communicable diseases.

Since 1997 the World Health Organization has recognized the importance of traditional medicine and supported Member States to develop their own traditional medicine systems for use in national healthcare systems. Across the South-East Asia Region, Member States have recognized the positive role traditional medicine can play, and have created specific ministries or dedicated departments responsible for it.

Importantly, WHO’s traditional medicine strategy, adopted in May 2014, reiterates the need for two outcomes.

First, fully harnessing traditional medicine and its contributions to health, wellness, people-centered and universal health care.

And second, ensuring traditional medicines are safe and effective, through regulation and research.

In October 2015 our Region agreed on a five-year action plan that is consistent with the objectives of the global strategy. This includes improving monitoring of the performance of traditional medicine systems; increasing research on new developments in traditional medicine; and promoting quality and safety by sharing best practices in national adverse events reporting systems for traditional as well as modern medicines.

Since then, a core set of indicators for monitoring traditional medicine systems performance have been developed. WHO has supported documentation of experience with creating pharmacovigilance systems for traditional products, starting with India and Thailand. This symposium itself provides a valuable boost to research on traditional and complementary medicine. Of course there remains plenty to do.

To this end, I take this opportunity to highlight the International Regulatory Cooperation for Herbal Medicines mechanism, and how it can be of use to Member States in achieving their goals as they relate to traditional and complementary medicines. I encourage all Member States in our Region to make full use of the mechanism’s expertise and resources.

I am certain that during this symposium you will have the opportunity to discuss this alongside many other possibilities, and to make the best use of traditional and complementary medicine as part of your quest to achieve universal health coverage and advance health and wellbeing for all.

Honorable guests,

I would like to conclude by congratulating the Honorable President and the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine for the exceptional work Sri Lanka is doing. In recent years the country has eliminated malaria and lymphatic filariasis, and implemented innovative policies in a range of areas, including with regard to the prevention of noncommunicable diseases.

Sri Lanka provides both the Region and the world an example of how universal health coverage can be pursued and progressively achieved. It is an example to be observed, appreciated and, of course, celebrated.

I thank you very much and wish you an engaging symposium.