WHO Congress on Traditional Medicine

Beijing, China

I would like to begin by congratulating the WHO on its 60th anniversary this year.

The Nippon Foundation has worked closely with the WHO for many years, especially in the fight against leprosy. Thanks to the efforts of many people, including some of you here today, this age-old disease will soon be eliminated in every country of the world.

Turning now to the theme of this gathering, I commend Dr. Margaret Chan for her leadership in organizing this first international conference on traditional medicine. At The Nippon Foundation, we are involved in a broad range of international projects for the improvement of public welfare, education, and medical care. These include promoting traditional medicine as a part of primary health care.

On my visits to developing countries, I have seen how symptoms such as colds and diarrhea can become more serious problems because people lack access to basic medical care. One solution to this problem is to apply traditional medicine, which draws on humankind’s wisdom and healing skills, nurtured through the ages. Traditional medicine is able to reach the unreachable — the people who don’t have access to hospitals or clinics.

At The Nippon Foundation, we have come up with practical ways to bring traditional medicine to the grassroots. We have done this in collaboration with the WHO, which carried out the first world survey of traditional medicine in 2003 with our support. We heard from Dr. Bold of Mongolian Health Ministry this morning about a project to distribute traditional medicine kits in Mongolia. This program is modeled on the “family pharmacy kits” a traditional distribution system in Japan with a 300-year history, and provides safe, effective, accessible health care to Mongolia’s nomadic people.

The medicine kit salesman would go from home to home, leaving a medicine box with each family. He would return regularly to check the kit, and receive payment for only what the family has used. In cooperation with Mongolia’s health authorities, we began by providing 10,000 such kits. The contents were developed to suit the Mongolian lifestyle, and contain familiar, high-quality traditional medicines that have proved their effectiveness over the years.
The cost of these traditional medicines is only one-tenth to one-twentieth that of modern medicines. This project has been very successful, and the system is taking root among the nomadic people.

For example in some areas where the kit was used, there was a dramatic decrease of 40% in the number of house calls that local doctors needed to make. This is a positive result in terms of primary health care, and we now want to distribute the kits across a wider area of Mongolia.

Regarding other countries, however, The Nippon Foundation knows from experience that the same approach does not always work in every case. We must be flexible and respect each country’s culture, and its ideas about traditional medicine. We need to find the best way to care for people in different situations.

In Myanmar, for example, we found it more effective to leave the family pharmacy kit with community, and not with individual families. We plan to help distribute 7,000 such kits in Myanmar over the next 3 years. In Thailand, we will fund the distribution of 1,200 traditional medicine kits to local communities with the aid of health volunteers. University professors will then cooperate in researching the results of the use of the kits. This research will help us learn how we can start similar projects in other countries.

To enhance the spread of traditional medicine, we have signed a five-year contract with ASEAN for the promotion of safe, high-quality traditional medicines that will contribute to primary health care throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, we plan to cooperate in creating the curriculum for Cambodia’s first school of traditional medicine. Laos, too, has asked for our support to develop their traditional medicines in a professional way.

It is important to note that there is still not enough access to medical care and modern medicine in the world. As a result, many people are suffering. The Nippon Foundation sees it as vital to reach these unreachable people as well. I very much appreciate your time and attention.