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WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM): Interview With Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region

The WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) is a knowledge centre for traditional medicine.

WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM): Interview With Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region

The very first WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) is coming up in Jamnagar Gujarat. The high-level groundbreaking ceremony for the centre is taking place today. The PM of India, WHO DG & Regional Director South-East Asia Region,  dignitaries and other senior officials are slated to be there for the ceremony.

The WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) is a knowledge centre for traditional medicine. As part of WHO's overall traditional medicine strategy, it has a strategic focus on evidence and learning, data and analytics, sustainability and equity, and innovation and technology to optimize the contribution of traditional medicine to global health and sustainable development. Now being established with the support of the Government of India, the Centre reflects the WHO Director-General's leadership vision that harnessing the potential of traditional medicine would be a game changer for health when founded on evidence, innovation and sustainability. The Prime Minister and Government of India are supporting the establishment of the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India, as a global good and in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam.

Here are responses to an exclusive interview with Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, on the new WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine(GCTM). 

Q1. How do you plan to standardize the field of traditional medicine, a field so vast and in-depth?


Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region
Photo Credit: WHO

Traditional medicine has been around for millennia and nearly 80 percent of people across the globe use one or the other traditional medicine. However, despite their widespread use, many of the traditional therapies lack robust evidence, data, and a standard framework. This has prevented the integration of traditional medicines into the mainstream healthcare delivery system.

The Global Centre for Traditional Medicine could be a game-changer by focusing on gathering evidence and data to inform policies, standards and regulatory frameworks for ensuring safety, quality and effectiveness of traditional medicines. Standardising the field of traditional medicine that is so vast is indeed a big challenge that the GCTM will try to address.

Some of the ways in which this could be done is through Artifical Intelligence (A.I.)  facilitated mapping of traditional medicine evidence and knowledge e.g. with reference to WHO Target Product Profiles, scientific literature, clinical trials, patent registries, traditional medicine practices etc, developing platform for validation and translation of traditional medicine evidence and knowledge: e.g. to screen traditional medicine research protocols based on WHO research quality standards, prior clinical trial registration etc. and through global evidence syntheses by systematic reviews e.g. with Cochrane Collaboration.

Q2. What methods will you be adopting to integrate the traditional system of medicine into mainstream healthcare delivery system?

Different countries are at varying stages of integrating traditional medicine into their mainstream healthcare delivery systems. Each with their unique knowledge and practical experiences will serve as a vast resource, highlighting the best practices and challenges of mainstreaming traditional medicine.

WHO's Global Centre for Traditional Medicine will serve as a hub tapping into this pool of knowledge and experience. Rooted in science, the centre will drive collection of evidence and learning including the use of artificial intelligence to map traditional medicine evidence and use. It will also develop educational resources, in collaboration with the WHO academy, for traditional medicine awareness  and capacity building of the traditional medicine workforce.

The GCTM will work to strengthen data and analytics through traditional medicine surveys and work towards protecting sociocultural heritage and biodiversity for sustainable development, equity, and rights. In collaboration with the WHO innovation hub, it will identify and scale up innovations to tap the potential of traditional medicine and integration into mainstream healthcare delivery system.

Q3. Which all fields of traditional medicine will be standardized?

The Global Centre for Traditional medicine will work to develop the standard framework for assessing the effectiveness  of traditional medicine practices and products, and examine the traditional systems of medicine and practices and those presented to it. It will help design and development of global survey for data on traditional medicine and analyse the data. Once fully established, it will identify the priorities based on the requests of member states and focusing on areas that are likely to yield maximum benefits. So, at this stage, it is possible to only indicate the broad approach and difficult to spell out the specifics.

.Q4. How do you think mainstream doctors will react to this collaboration?

Nearly eighty percent of people use traditional medicine and over 40 percent of the pharmaceuticals trace their origins to traditional medicine. In many countries including India, there is a long history of combining allopathic and traditional medicine systems.

Many countries now recognize the need to develop a cohesive and integrative approach to health care that allows governments, health care practitioners and, most importantly, those who use health care services, to access traditional medicines that is safe, effective and in a quality assured manner. 

Almost 90 percent of WHO Member States globally have developed policies, laws, regulations, programmes, and offices for easy access to traditional medicines and practices which are aligned with WHO's Global Traditional  Medicine Strategy 2014–2023.

The Global centre for traditional medicine aims at building on the knowledge and harnessing the power of traditional medicine, part of ancient wisdom for health and wellbeing  by grounding it in science, backed by evidence and data.

The acceptance to traditional medicine among allopathic doctors would be significantly enhanced when these are backed by robust scientific evidence, which the GCTM will essentially be endeavouring for.  It will serve to promote cooperation and synergy between traditional  and modern allopathic medicines so that both systems can work together and leverage their strengths for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal # 3 of ensuring the health and promoting wellbeing for all the people at all ages.

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