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Essential medicines and health products

Background of WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine

The Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China

The year 2008 marked WHO’s 60th anniversary and also the 30th anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration, adopted by WHO and UNICEF in 1978. The Alma-Ata Declaration was significant for traditional medicine (TM). Although TM has been used for thousands of years and has made great contributions to human health, the Alma-Ata Declaration was the first recognition of the role of TM and its practitioners in primary health care by WHO and its Member States.

The use of TM has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. Due to its affordability, availability and accessibility, TM has played an important role in meeting the demands of primary health care in many developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. Since the 1990s, the use of TM has surged. It not only maintains its function in primary health care in developing countries (70-80% of the population in India and Ethiopia still depend on TM and practitioners for primary health care), but its use has expanded widely in many developed countries where it is referred to as Complementary or Alternative Medicine (CAM). For instance, 70% of the population in Canada and 80% in Germany have used TM as CAM treatment.

In the 21st century, national health authorities were asked to consider how to integrate TM/CAM into their national health systems. After four years of implementation of the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy (2002-2005), significant progress is evident. To further assess the role of TM/CAM, to review the progress of countries and to help Member States integrate TM/CAM into their national health systems, WHO organized the first WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine, 7-9 November 2008, Beijing, People’s Republic of China. The Congress was hosted by the Ministry of Health and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, in cooperation with four nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with official relations with WHO including: the World Self-Medication Industry (WSMI), the World Federation of Acupuncture-Moxibustion Societies (WFAS), the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), and the World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC).

The WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine

Representatives of over 70 Member States attended the WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine. Satellite symposia were held to discuss related technical topics presented by organizations such as the World Self Medication Industry, the World Federation of Acupuncture-Moxibustion Societies, the World Federation of Chiropractic and the International Pharmaceutical Federation. In total, approximately 1500 people were present at all the events.

The Congress was comprised of five parts:

  • Opening Ceremony - including speech by the Director-General, WHO
  • International Forum on Integration of TM/CAM into Health Systems
  • "Beijing Declaration"
  • Satellite Symposia and Exhibitions - attended by participants of the Forum as well as NGOs
  • Public communication and education for proper use of TM - in selected local communities.
Congress partners