The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for stronger collaboration between governments, donors and the private sector in Africa towards integration of traditional medicine into the health care system.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, made the call in a statement to mark the African Traditional Medicine Day 2017.
She said this would ensure appropriate integration of traditional medicine into health systems to contribute to achieving universal health coverage and sustainable development goals.
Moeti also urged governments to invest in biomedical and operational research aimed at expanding the scope of accepted best practices of traditional medicine in national health systems.
She reiterated the need for relevant regulatory authorities to enhance regulation of traditional medicine practitioners, practices and products.
“I have no doubt that enhanced collaboration between the two types of practitioners will increase transparency and complementarity, mutual respect, understanding and research,’’ said the regional director.
She said it would also facilitate more efficient use of domestic medical resources and enhance self-sufficiency in health development especially for low income countries.
“I congratulate traditional health practitioners, researchers and experts who are making contribution to integrate traditional medicine into health systems.
“WHO will continue to support this integration particularly into primary health care services.
“For the past 16 years, a majority of the countries in the African Region have made commendable achievements; and traditional medicine has been included, although not fully integrated into all aspects of health care.
“Since 2000, the number of countries with traditional medicine policies has risen from eight to 40 and the number of countries with traditional medicine programmes has surged from 10 to 36.
“Research institutes dedicated to traditional medicine have also increased from 18 to 28. Consequently, 14 countries have issued marketing authorisations of some traditional medicine products used for the treatment of priority diseases as compared to only one in 2000.
“In an effort to improve skills of the health workforce, 19 countries have integrated traditional medicine in the curricula of health science students, whereas the number of countries with regulations for traditional health practitioners has surged from one to 31,” Moeti said.
She said that collaborations between conventional and traditional health practitioners have been strengthened over the years as countries continue to integrate traditional health practitioners into mainstream primary health care.
Moeti noted that countries such as Benin and Cote d’Ivoire have established traditional medicine facilities, while Mali, Senegal, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania practitioners collaborate in research, diagnosis, treatment, care and patient counseling.
She said that although progress has been made, much more could still be done to ensure all countries integrate traditional medicine practitioners, practices and products into all areas of health services when there is evidence on safety, efficacy and quality.
The regional director listed some of the major challenges hindering the progress of this integration to include deficiencies in appropriate regulation of practices and practitioners.
She said other challenges were lack of monitoring and implementation of regulation on products, appropriate integration of traditional medicine services into health care service delivery and self-health care.
“As part of efforts to support countries, WHO has mobilised additional resources from partners and established a WHO Regional Expert Committee to support the effective monitoring and evaluation of the progress made in the implementation of the Regional Traditional Medicine Strategy.
“In addition, WHO developed a range of tools and guidelines covering the priority interventions needed to integrate safe, effective and good quality traditional medicine into all areas of health care services.
“These include tools for institutionalising traditional medicine in health systems; guidelines for regulation of traditional medicine practitioners, practices and products and registration of traditional medicines,” Moeti added.
The African Traditional Medicine Day is celebrated every year on Aug. 31.
The theme for the 2017 celebration is: “Integration of Traditional Medicine in Health Systems in the African Region: The Journey So Far”.
Moeti said the theme was in line with the organisation’s vision of integrating traditional medicine into all areas of health care services, based on their safety, efficacy and quality.