Most Significant International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine Expands to Include Policy, Clinical, and Education Tracks in May 2016

ACIMHThe integrative medicine organization with the most clout, globally, is likely the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health (ACIMH, or “The Consortium” as the members prefer to call it). Its core membership is more than 60 North American medical schools. In 2006, the organization began hosting a major research meeting, backed by the US National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. In 2012, the sponsors acknowledged their international reach. The meeting drew an interprofessional mix of more than 1000 researchers and clinicians from some 3 dozen nations. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, the organization hosted or co-hosted significant meetings on education, clinical issues, and policy, respectively.

IMH 2016On May 17-20, 2016, the Consortium is rolling content from these 4 domains into one big meeting. The Green Valley Ranch hotel off the Las Vegas, Nevada, strip will be the site of the International Congress for Integrative Medicine and Health. In a break from the past, the Consortium expanded its supporting organization collaborators: Integrative Health Policy Consortium (policy), Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (clinical) and Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (education). These joined the historic partner on research content, the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research. Representatives of each are on the Program Committee and the Communications Committee.

In this video, the organizers suggest the potential for significant synergies. A quick glance at the themes for the 6 Plenary Speakers and the 12 Pre-Conference Workshops says it. The microbiome. Interprofessionalism and team care. Measuring cost-effectiveness in integrative medicine. Group visits. Neurophysiology of meditation. Leadership. Policy action to ensure viability. Mixing qualitative and quantitative methods. And these do not yet touch the not yet announced but anticipated 3 dozen workshops and scores of posters.

CongressComment: Alignment of interest note: I serve on the Congress’s Organizing Committee and as chair of its Communications Committee. I have also been to every one of the 7 congresses and meetings since 2006 leading up to this. Each has offered tremendous learning. As many in the ICIMH video bear witness, they also offer extraordinary networking opportunities. When the only focus was on research, the biggest issue with the Congress was already an overabundance of content. In May 2016, with additional pulls to policy, education, and clinical content, the risk for anyone with a whole-systems view about the state of this movement may be to find oneself struck to stone by the overabundance of tempting options. That’s a great sort of problem to have. You will not regret the decision to attend. Heck, for true whole-systems integrators, there is also the opportunity at this Congress to integrate craps, blackjack, dining options, and extravagant entertainment with subtler healing arts.

PROMETRA International: A Collaborative Model for Stimulating Understanding and Optimal Use of Traditional African Medicines and Practices

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PROMETRA International“In all Black Africa, we notice progressive disappearance of traditional healers and the degradation of their knowledge. This is all the more reason to consider as pressing and essential task the study and revalorization of traditional medicine in our countries. This rehabilitation cannot be made without the regulations of their practice in a legal frame work.”

Erick V.A. Gbodossou, MDThe statement was made last August by Erick V.A. Gbodossou, MD (pictured), the founder and president of PROMETRA International. Gbodossou is also a traditional healer from the Hwula tribe in present-day Benin. He was responding to news that the World Health Organization’s 15TH annual African Traditional Medicine Day would be dedicated to the “regulation of traditional practitioners in the African region.” PROMETRA is a non-governmental organization dedicated to the preservation of “African traditional medicine, culture and indigenous science.”

With origins dating back to 1971, the organization presently has chapters in 27 nations led by “bi-world” leaders trained in both systems of western and traditional medicine. Throughout the past decade, PROMETRA International has trained over 18,000 traditional healers as what it calls “Information, Education and Communication (IEC) agents.” The organization does this through a scientifically-based, culturally appropriated train the trainer program, FAPEG. PROMETRA is one of the longest surviving, sustainable NGOs on the continent of Africa. It has been a grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UNDP, European Union and other international funders.

Virginia Floyd, MD, MPHIn the United States, activity is led by long-time global health leader Virginia Floyd, MD, MPH (pictured, below). A special projects leader for Morehouse School of Medicine, Floyd also sits on the board of the Andrew Young Foundation and the National March of Dimes. The Global Integrator Blog recently connected with Floyd. She’d recently returned from Benin where she’d coordinated an educational exchange and tour on traditional medicine themes and had just helped send off the 20-person group. Included were 3 professionals from the Cleveland Clinic with a particular interest in Sufi wound healing. Another was a second-year resident in the integrative family medicine residency developed through the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine founded by Andrew Weil, MD. The multidisciplinary nature of the work is evident through the backgrounds of the others: 2 engineers, an architect, 2 other medical doctors, a Reiki master, a naturopath, a farmer, a physician’s assistant, and a nurse practitioner. The tour and medical exchange was set to overlap with the day that the system of Voodoo is annually recognized in that nation, January 10.

Floyd has helped facilitate multiple USA relationships for PROMETRA to explore the science of traditional medicines. (See, here in the Global Integrator Blog, Ebola, Ambassador Andrew Young, and the Potential Role of Native African Medicine.) Her own passions run to traditional Voodoo practice and the entire system of traditional knowledge.

Gbodossou provides a flavor here of the reason for reaching back into tradition even as relationships are developed to research natural products: “It is necessary to remind us that the Cartesian system does not know life, and has nothing to measure love, emotion or intuition! This modern system is incapable to individually solve many health problems.” In setting the Morehouse-PROMETRA relationship, the parties chose to create a “basis” for mutual understanding by distinguishing between “knowledge” of Cartesian/Western medicine and the “knowing” of traditional healers. Behind the work is a profound sense of mission. Gbodossou articulates: “If it is recognized by all that HEALTH IS THE BASE AND FOUNDATION OF ANY DEVELOPMENT then it is painful to notice that the development of the Africa region is almost exclusively in exogenous hands.” [capitals in the original]

Comment: Much of the interest of conventional medical stakeholders in traditional medicines—when it exists—is limited to a drug framework. The focus is on the seemingly low-hanging fruit of natural medicines, often with the intent to synthesize them if value is found. They miss the forest for the fruits. The power of PROMETRA’s work, under Gbodossou’s leadership, is in sustaining and reclaiming the broadest value of the traditions—and not just to individuals, one by one, but to the strength of the peoples as a whole.

PAHO Initiates NicaraguaInitiative on Integrative, Traditional, and Complementary Therapies with US,Australian, and Spanish Partner Organizations

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)In a remarkable first, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has announced amajor, multi-party, global initiative to advance the integration of traditional and complementary medicine into a national health system. The nation at stake is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua.

The driving force behind the series of December 2015 meetings in Managua is Maria Socorro Gross, MD (on the left in the photo), the representative in Managua of the PAHO and of the World Health Organization (WHO). The parties met in a workshop conducted through the Nicaraguan Institute for Natural Medicine and Complementary Therapies, established in December 2014. The purpose was described as “capacity building in research and access to information to integrate natural medicine into the health system.” The aim is “contributing to the strengthening of the Model of Family and Community Health.” Key health local health officials attended.

The meeting included the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with the National College of Natural Medicine (Portland, Oregon, USA), Australian Research Centre on Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Technology (Sidney, Australia), the Program Philippus del Real Centro Universitario Escorial-María Cristina (Spain), and Natural Doctors International (NDI – Portland,Oregon, USA, and Ometepe, Nicaragua). The representatives of the international organizations included Tabatha Parker, ND (NDI, NCNM) and Jon Wardle, ND (Australia; pictured below). The goal: “strengthen the comprehensive approach to health care, to provide users with access to services natural medicine,respectful, affordable, safe and effective.”

Socorro GrossComment: One of the most remarkable aspects of this activity is the person behind it. Socorro Gross has more than 20 years in significant leadership promoting WHO’s primary care mission. She has served with PAHO/WHO since 1994 in positions in Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and most significantly in Washington, DC, as the subdirector of PAHO. Perhaps the initiative in Nicaragua will prove a precursorto an expansion.

At the founding of Nicaragua’s integrative care Institute a year ago, the nation’s controversial president, Daniel Ortega, and his spouse, Rosario Murillo—who serves the government as Coordinator of the Communication Council—stated that the interest is in a health system that “promotes a comprehensive service.” To them that means “to use natural medicine to supplement Western conventional medicine.” The services of a Vietnamese acupuncturist were highlighted as an example of the new direction.

Finally, quite interesting to see the team that was present. The Global Integrator Blog previously published this Report from Daniel Gallego-Perez, MD, at APHA: Creating a Database on Integrative Research in Colombia.

Gallego-Perez is completing a doctorate in public health at Boston University with his thesis focused on these very developments. Parker is a cofounder of NDI who, with Wardle, is a leader in efforts to gain WHO recognition for the naturopathic profession. This activity is potent for Nicaragua, potentially for the PAHO region, and definitely for the emerging globalization of the naturopathic health field.