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Jun 01, 2023

Our gracious hosts, the Ayush and health ministers of India and the Government of Gujarat State;

WHO colleagues from headquarters and our regions;

Delegates from all corners of the world.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi – the father of modern India – a man whose words continue to inspire: “Namra tareeke se aap duniya ko hila sakte hai” – “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.

After just 2 days here in Gandhinagar – the city named after the Mahatma – I think it’s no exaggeration to say that all of us, together, have gently shaken up the status quo that has, for far too long, separated different approaches to medicine and health.

By taking aim at silos, we are saying we will collaborate all the more to find optimal ways to bring traditional, complementary and integrative [TCI] medicine well under the umbrella of primary health care and universal health coverage.

Collaborations underpinned by science and evidence and safety; collaborations that acknowledge the very real role TCI medicine plays in the lives, health and well-being of people globally. Health and well-being achieved through the principles of equity, affordability and quality.

In these 2 days, we have explored innovative models that combine modern medicines with various forms of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine. Models that stand up to the rigours of scientific study and research.

We have called for policies that promote standardized traditional medicine documentation and accelerate use of the International Classification of Diseases or ICD-11 – thus enabling seamless integration and evidence data generation within routine health information systems.

We have reiterated how crucial it is to get better evidence on the effectiveness, safety and quality of traditional and complementary medicine – that means innovative methodologies for assessing and evaluating outcomes.

Controlled clinical trials may not always be feasible here – but by the same token, the same goes for many interventions in modern medicine and healing, for example psychotherapy and certain forms of surgery.

But what we do need is better data collection – getting the basics in place to be able to better benefit from traditional and complementary medicine. In a session this morning, a traditional medicine practitioner from the African continent, sitting in the audience, appealed for just this – for better data. She acknowledged that when the data are not there, it becomes far more challenging for traditional medicine therapies and modalities to be taken seriously by the wider medical fraternity.

We also discussed how digital health and artificial intelligence applications can be at the service of traditional medicine. In this, I stressed that while this technology is a game-changer for health as a whole, digital health transformation means using better data to better inform decisions; and, not least, ensuring technology does not leave already vulnerable populations behind all the more – equity must guide us in all that we adopt and implement.

Then, the sometimes contentious issue of regulation of professionals, practices, and products; regulation, not to pit modern medicine against traditional medicine, but to truly benefit from all modalities by avoiding harms, addressing safety concerns and – not least – unnecessary spending of money. Remember – access and affordability.

Finally, something that struck me through all the discussions I’ve heard – the need to respect one another – respect tradition, professionalism, practices. Also this morning, another delegate from Africa – a healer – made an impassioned plea to WHO to advocate with governments and ministries to take traditional medicine seriously by affording genuine practitioners the respect they so deserve. In so doing, this gentleman acknowledged what an important role WHO plays in charting the global health agenda – a responsibility all of us at WHO take very seriously.

Another Mahatma Gandhi quote I like – one both simple yet profound – says, “Aap aaj jo karte hai uspar bhavishya nirbhar karta hai” – “The future depends on what we do today”.

I came here from the WHO European Region 2 days ago primarily to listen and learn. I have listened carefully, and I have learned a lot.

My pledge today is to take all that I have absorbed to heart; to find ways to build stronger bridges between our various disciplines – all with the aim of bringing about better health outcomes, not only for the almost 1 billion people in the 53 countries of my region – but for the entire world.

Dhanyavaad. Thank you.