DISTINGUISHED PARTICIPANTS, COLLEAGUES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
I am very pleased to welcome you all to this meeting.
Herbal medicine is the main component of the traditional system of medicine. It has been used for thousands of years and has made a significant contribution to human health. Today, people still attach considerable importance to herbal medicine, particularly in this Region.
For its part, WHO recognizes the very significant contribution which traditional medicine can make to public health in the Region. We fully support Member States in their efforts to integrate traditional medicine into their health delivery systems, particularly in extending the coverage of primary health care.
Accurate figures on regional expenditure on herbal medicine are not available. However, in Australia for example, expenditure on alternative medicine, including herbal medicine, is estimated at about US$438 million annually. In China, herbal medicine represents about one-third of the drug market. In Hong Kong, herbal medicines worth over US$260 million are imported annually and over 900 raw and processed herbal medicines are generally available in herbal shops. In Malaysia, sales of traditional medicines are estimated at about US$315 million annually.
Herbal medicine holds great but still largely unexplored potential for the development of new drugs to combat major health problems. Artemisinin and its derivatives, for example, extracted from Artemisia annua, have become the most effective remedy for multi-drug-resistant malaria cases.
In China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam, the use of herbal medicine is an integral part of the formal health service system. In other countries, herbal medicine is usually used only in the community or in private practice. However, increasing public interest, as demonstrated by herbal medicine's share of the drug market, has raised government awareness in the Region. Health authorities in several countries and areas are reviewing the current status of herbal medicine and the possibility of bringing it into the mainstream of the health service.
Mechanisms for ensuring the safety and control of herbal medicine need to be introduced as part of its formal incorporation into the health service system. In Australia, Macao and Malaysia, for example, systems for the registration of herbal medicine products have been implemented. The regulation of the use of herbal medicine in medical practice is being considered in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Recognition of the value of herbal medicine is not always accompanied by strong support and the development of vigorous programmes at national level and below. Implementation of government policy is often slowed down by the lack of experience of health authorities. The different philosophical backgrounds of traditional and modern medicine make it difficult for one system to judge the other. Despite these difficulties, there have recently been some significant developments regarding the promotion of traditional medicine in the Region. For example, the meeting of the Ministers of Health of the Pacific island countries in Rarotonga in August 1997 agreed that the use of traditional medicine, including herbal medicine, should be encouraged where appropriate, and steps should be taken to incorporate its use in the health care system. At the forty-eighth session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific it was decided that a technical briefing on traditional medicine should be included during the forty-ninth session of the Regional Committee in 1998.
The major task of this Working Group is to prepare guidelines for the appropriate use of herbal medicine. These guidelines will include technical suggestions for Member States interested in promoting the proper use of herbal medicine. They will include recommendations on how to develop a comprehensive national programme, regulate the practice of herbal medicines and introduce measures for registration. Guidelines on education and research and information exchange will also be prepared.
There is no single model for promoting the proper use of herbal medicine. The guidelines you recommend should be flexible enough to provide various options to Member States to enable them to identify the most appropriate approach to suit their own needs. The guidelines you provide should be both feasible and practical.
I am fully aware that it will not be an easy task to prepare such guidelines. This will be a challenge to all of you. The Working Group is a good mixture of policy-makers, administrators, researchers and practitioners. With your broad experience of herbal medicine, I am sure that you will be able to provide extremely valuable recommendations for further steps to promote the proper use of herbal medicine in the Region. I look forward very much to hearing the outcome of your deliberations.
I like to inform you that the meeting is held with support from the Republic of Korea Government.
I wish you a successful and fruitful meeting and an enjoyable stay in Manila.