African Standards for African Traditional Medicine, the role of the TBT Programme

Posted on: January 13, 2015


The 2013 WHO report on Traditional Medicine[1] presents Traditional Medicine as “the sum total of the knowledge, skill, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness”. This same report also states that the number of African countries with national Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM) policies increased from eight in 1999/2000 to 39 in 2010, and those with national T&CM strategic plans rose from zero to 18. Country regulatory frameworks increased from one in 1999/2000 to 28 in 2010, including various instruments such as the code of ethics and the legal framework for T&CM practitioners.

These statistics clearly indicate that African population tends to use more and more traditional and complementary medicine for their primary health. In sub-Saharan countries, medicinal plants constitute the key therapeutic arsenal of the traditional medicine and thus represent an important economic pillar provided that countries adopt the right standards. The present market value of herbal medicine is reported to be around 80 billion USD.

The work undertaken by the African Standardization Organization (ARSO) in general and in the T&CM sector in particular, through the Technical Harmonization Committee (THC) on Traditional Medicine, is crucial for the continent. Adopting the appropriate standards will not only encourage trade and economic growth, help develop good agricultural practice, create jobs but will also make safe and quality herbal products available to the people at large. It is a fact that access to medication is a big issue in Africa and it is also worth noting that herbal medicines have the advantage of reconciling health with traditions. 

In order to accelerate the work of the THC on Traditional Medicine, ARSO, with the support of the TBT Programme, launched in December 2014, activities related to the harmonization of standards in African traditional medicine. From Tuesday, 2nd of December 2014 to Friday, 5th of December 2014 the Technical Harmonization Committee 13 (THC 13) on African Traditional Medicine of the African Standardization Organization (ARSO) held its first meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, to launch the first activities related to standards’ harmonization, noting that the preparatory work had started in July 2014 with the development of draft harmonized standards. This meeting was the first of two to take place within the framework of the TBT Programme Project “Harmonization of African standards – Traditional Medicine, Kenya & Mauritius”, the second being due to take place in Mauritius in March 2015. During the four days in Nairobi more than twenty delegates from all over Africa, including the Project Team Leader Prof. Ameenah Gurib Fakim, discussed working drafts of seven standards on African traditional medicine, which were produced by the project and submitted for consultation to ARSO member states prior to the workshop.

The standards being developed by ARSO with the support of the TBT Programme will ensure that these standards are acceptable to ARSO member countries and eventually across the continent. 

The results of the deliberations in Nairobi are now being incorporated into the Committee draft standards and will be presented for consideration as Final Draft Standards at the second THC 13 meeting due to take place in March 2015 to be recommended for adoption in accordance with the African Standards Harmonisation Model (ASHAM).

[1] WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023, publication of the WHO 2013

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