Critical Perspectives on WHO ‘Gujarat Declaration’ on Traditional Medicine

The World Health Organization (WHO) organized the first-ever global summit on traditional medicine in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on 17-18th August   2023. The summit brought together delegates and experts from around the world to discuss the role and contribution of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) to global public health. The outcomes of the summit were consolidated into a consensus declaration titled the ‘Gujarat Declaration on Traditional Medicine’.

The Gujarat Declaration recognizes the significant contributions TCIM can make to achieving universal health coverage, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promoting holistic health and wellbeing globally. It lays out a comprehensive action agenda to integrate evidence-based TCIM into national healthcare policies and systems worldwide. The declaration reaffirms international commitments related to traditional medicine and indigenous knowledge while outlining practical steps to validate, regulate, research and promote TCIM.

Critical Analysis of Key Sections:

Reaffirming Commitments and Recognizing Value of TCIM

A key strength of the declaration is how it reaffirms past international commitments related to traditional medicine and indigenous knowledge. This includes the 1978 Alma Ata Declaration, 2007 UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, WHO resolutions on TCIM etc. The declaration also clearly articulates the value of evidence-based TCIM for billions of people worldwide. It emphasizes the need to consider indigenous medical knowledge alongside conventional medicine to evolve more holistic and personalized approaches to healthcare. This sets the right tone and context for the rest of the document.

Research and Evidence on TCIM

The declaration rightly calls for increased funding and priority-setting for TCIM research based on global and regional evidence mapping. It encourages countries to build capabilities and institutions for TCIM research, knowledge exchange and to contribute to global repositories of evidence-based interventions. Importantly, it highlights the need to evolve inclusive research methods that go beyond analyzing active ingredients and capture the holistic, complex nature of TCIM. Maintaining scientific rigor along with cultural competence is appropriately emphasized. Overall, the research agenda outlined is comprehensive but implementing it will require concrete steps, political will and resources.

Integrating TCIM into Healthcare Policies and Systems

A key focus of the declaration is supporting integration of evidence-based TCIM into national healthcare policies, systems, education and training based on appropriate research and local contexts. It calls for establishing regulatory mechanisms for TCIM product safety and practitioner qualifications. Promoting TCIM components in the medical curriculum and as part of universal health coverage (UHC) strategies is encouraged. These recommendations are pragmatic but will need contextual adaptation and policy evolution in different countries to avoid one-size-fits-all approaches.

Protecting Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge

The declaration promotes implementing the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and related instruments that call for equitable benefit sharing from genetic resources and traditional knowledge. It stresses the need to safeguard biodiversity and indigenous knowledge through inclusive conservation policies and access frameworks. However, translating this into action requires addressing complex ethical issues around biopiracy and developing appropriate community-led solutions. The declaration could have elaborated more on this.

Data, ICT and Artificial Intelligence

Some of the more forward-looking aspects proposed relate to harnessing data, ICT and artificial intelligence (AI) to create evidence-based digital TCIM resources and share knowledge. However, implementation will necessitate significant investments in health information systems, data standards, governance frameworks and capacity building across countries to collect and analyze TCIM data ethically. The risks of using AI also need to be proactively addressed to ensure equitable access.

Focus on Implementation and Impact

A key gap in the declaration is outlining an implementation and accountability framework. Turning the proposed commitments into on-ground impact will require measurable targets, monitoring systems, sustainable financing and multi-sectoral coordination. Stronger emphasis on community participation, gender mainstreaming and public-private partnerships could have also benefited the action agenda. The proposed WHO global TCIM center can potentially play a vital role in driving coordinated implementation.


In summary, the Gujarat Declaration constructively highlights the immense potential of evidence-based TCIM in promoting holistic health and wellbeing globally. It makes pragmatic recommendations aligned with WHO’s statutory role and global health goals. However, it needs to be backed up with concrete financing, national policy actions and implementation planning to have a tangible impact. Overall, it sets a collaborative tone for integrating TCIM into modern public health through an inclusive, ethical and scientifically-grounded approach that respects indigenous medical heritage

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image credits: WHO

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