International Conference on Holistic Medicine 2012

Speech | 17 November 2012

Speech by ADB Sri Lanka Resident Mission Country Director Rita O'Sullivan on 17 November in Sri Lanka

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am very pleased to be here today at the inauguration of the third International Conference on Holistic Medicine, and have this opportunity to address you at this occasion.

Globally, for millions of people, mostly living in rural areas of developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, herbal medicines, traditional treatments, and traditional practices are an important and sometimes the only source of health care. This is care that is familiar, accessible, and affordable. In some systems of traditional medicine, such as traditional Chinese medicine and the Ayurveda system historically rooted in India, traditional practices are supported by wisdom and experience acquired over centuries. During its 3000 year history, traditional Chinese medicine pioneered interventions such as diet, exercise, awareness of environmental influences on health, and the use of herbal remedies as part of a holistic approach to health. Other ancient medical systems in other countries, such as Ayurveda in India, offer similar approaches to health. Sri Lanka also has a rich tradition of holistic medicine, which is commonly used even in urban areas to date.

Holistic medicine has gained international attention with more and more people in developed countries too turning to alternative medicine and therapeutic practices to deal with disease and general wellbeing. Holistic medicinal practices represent historical assets that have become all the more relevant given the challenges to health in the current context of the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles, rapid unplanned urbanization, and demographic ageing. These are global trends with global consequences for health, most notably seen in the universal rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and mental disorders. For these diseases and many other conditions, holistic medicine has much to offer in terms of prevention, comfort, compassion, and care.

The preventive nature of the holistic approach, the absence of side effects from long term use as in the case of modern medicine, and the lack of satisfying solutions in modern medicine for many diseases have supported the spread of holistic medicine and helped gain wider acceptance. In some instances, some countries have brought the two systems together in highly effective ways. In several countries where health systems are organized around primary health care, traditional medicine is well integrated and provides an essential part of preventive care and treatment of common ailments. For example, in PRC, herbal therapy of proven success against many disorders is provided in state hospitals throughout the country, alongside conventional medicine.

While these practices are commonly used, and have grown in recent years, challenges remain. Modern medicine has developed powerful methodologies for proving effectiveness, ensuring quality, standardizing good manufacturing practices, testing for safety, and conducting post-marketing surveillance for adverse effects. Many, traditional medicines have an inadequate evidence base when measured by these standards. Tests for quality and standards for production tend to be less rigorous and controlled. Products may escape the strict regulations set up to ensure drug safety. Practitioners may not be certified or licensed.

Systems need to be developed to address these challenges effectively, especially in today's context, where customers are better informed and their demands are more complex. Safeguards must be put in place in the form of systems for regulation, training, and licensing or certification, and strict controls of product safety. Knowledge on the positive attributes of holistic medicine needs to be publicized more effectively. In promoting these practices among people, and in making holistic medicine accessible to a wider market, the industry needs to organize itself, with attention to commercial aspects. It is important to bring in structure to the industry and regulate practitioners to ensure quality standards. To sell products internationally, it is essential to focus on marketing aspects. It is necessary to focus on packaging, while providing information on aspects such as standards and shelf life.

With increasing focus on health and wellbeing in today's world, and indeed in the development dialog, it is the right time for holistic medicine to take its place as part of the solution to modern ills that affect our society. While health sector is not one of ADB's primary sectors of intervention, health is an important aspect to poverty alleviation and social development. ADB recognizes that despite the extraordinary gains made in living standards in Asia and the Pacific hundreds of millions of people are still excluded from the benefits of rapid economic growth, without access to basic social services and vulnerable to illness. ADB's social development agenda involves people and their communities, organizations, institutions, societies and governments in all poverty relief activities. The aim is to reduce poverty, inequality and vulnerability among poor and marginalized groups by transforming institutions to enable them to foster inclusiveness and equitable access to services, resources and opportunities and empowerment to participate in social, economic and political life. Therefore I recognize the invaluable role that holistic medicine can play in achieving inclusive development. ADB also focuses on private sector and industrial development, which could include health care related initiatives.

I am honored to be here today to witness the inauguration of this very important symposium. Over the next two days, I trust that you will have very useful deliberations that will help you to meet the challenges that you face successfully, and will enable you to play the vital role that is required of you in today's context. I wish you well in all your endeavors.

Thank you!