On March 11, 2015, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) established an official relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO). The formal tie consummated a process that began a decade ago. The importance to the Chinese of this relationship for their plans for worldwide dissemination of their medicine was made clear by WFCMS president She Jing (pictured): “The relations embodies that WHO attaches great importance to Chinese medicine, which helps extend international influence of Chinese Medicine.” The recognition, according to the announcement, will be a platform through which the WFCMS anticipates influencing the direction of global health and medicine. Li Zhenji, WFCMS vice president and secretary-general, listed four points in a WFCMS-WHO “2015-2017 cooperation plan.”
The announcement the next day at a press conference (group pictured) was accompanied by a brief comment from Bernhard Schwartlander, WHO representative in China. He was representing Margaret Chan, WHO Director General. Stated Schwartlander: “The WHO recognizes the values and role traditional medicine can play in national health systems, especially in primary care.” He reportedly added, “There is continuing demand for traditional medicine around the world. It is not only used to treat diseases and is widely used for disease prevention, health promotion, and health maintenance.” The same article estimated that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is practiced in 164 countries and regions and “includes 300,000 employees.”
Comment: Notably, the announcement immediately provoked a skeptical response from a writer at the Quartz website. The reader is greeted first with a written disclaimer that, while the WHO may recognize the WFCMS, the “Jury’s still out” on TCM. Immediately beneath is a visually delivered, sophomoric follow-up punch: amidst a wall of dark-stained, ancient drawers evoking the multiple ingredients in a Chinese apothecary, a live snake’s tail drapes out of one drawer. The ensuing copy, however, is not utterly biased, noting a recent study that found a Chinese herb useful in warding off the Ebola virus.
The bigger story, however, is the platform that this gives the Chinese government for its significant mission in exporting Chinese culture as TCM. Such a mission will be best served if the WFCMS uses its WHO recognition not just for their own interests but for the effort to find the right relationship between traditional medicines of all kinds and industrial medicine. The WFCMS has an opportunity to be an inclusive voice for the broader values and practices associated with integrative health and medicine. Meantime, the leaders of the robust activity to elevate AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy) in India, who also foresee broadened export of their nation’s medicine, likely see such WHO recognition as a near-term target for their own organizations and global ambition.