ZSL’s position on the World Health Organization’s acceptance of traditional Chinese medicine

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) governing body, the World Health Assembly, is set to ratify the 11th version of the Organization’s global compendium at the Assembly’s meeting in Geneva, from 20 to 28 May 2019. 


For the first time the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) will include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), effectively recognising it as a valid alternative to “conventional” treatments. Aspects of TCM involve using substances derived from threatened animals and we share concerns with fellow conservation organisations that the WHO's decision could undermine the conservation of these species. 


We were dismayed when the Chinese Government proposed to legalise the commercial trade of rhino horn and products derived from captive tiger bones for use in TCM in 2018. After international outcry, we are relieved that these changes have been suspended. ZSL remains concerned that some TCM promotes the unsustainable use of species including pangolins, big cats and caterpillar fungus and that, without clarification, the WHO’s position may exacerbate this problem and lead to the further decline of these endangered species. 


ZSL supports calls for the WHO to clarify its position on the unsustainable use of threatened species in TCM.