Potential of traditional medicine should be fostered, Economic and Social Council President tells panel on attaining Millennium Development Goals in public health
UN press release, 12 February 2009
NEW YORK, USA: “We cannot ignore the potential of traditional medicine” in the race to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and renew primary health care for those who lacked access to it, Economic and Social Council President Sylvie Lucas stressed as she launched the 54-member body’s first panel discussion in connection with its upcoming 2009 Annual Ministerial Review theme. The discussion, on “The contribution of traditional medicine to the realization of international development objectives related to global public health”, featured four experts: Xiaorui Zhang, Coordinator for Traditional Medicine, Department of Essential Medicine and Pharmaceutical Policies, World Health Organization (WHO); Antony Taubman, Director and Head of the Global Intellectual Property Issues and Life Sciences Program, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); Myriam Conejo, Coordinator of the Centro de Salud Jambi Huasi, Quito, Ecuador; and S. Rama Rao, Officer-in-Charge, WIPO, New York.
If a link between tradition and innovation was to be established, local populations had to be protected from the unauthorized use of their knowledge and plants, ECOSOC President Lucas said. Intellectual property rights could be used to that end, and UN bodies were working to shape a framework for the use of traditional medicine for development. Taubman said the difficult issues surrounding traditional medicine had arisen from a lack of respect for traditional knowledge systems – including communities. Indigenous peoples were custodians of traditional medicines, and a failure to respect that carried legal and practical implications … Traditional knowledge systems were not just “facts”; they formed the cultural identity of indigenous peoples, and mishandling by others could be seen as an assault on the cultural identity of a community. He said prior informed consent of traditional knowledge holders must be obtained prior to its use, and highlighted the need for a binding definition of “traditional knowledge.” Trade in traditional medicine at the international level was a topic touched on by Rao, who spoke on legal protection and mainstreaming of traditional medicines, which was being attempted by the Government of India with the aid of its “traditional knowledge digital library.” He said the digital library was now being used to facilitate international trade negotiations between India and other countries. So far, the Indian Government had reached an agreement with the European Patent Office so that herbal medicines originating from India could not be patented in Europe without first referring to the database. Negotiations on a similar arrangement with the United States Trademark and Patent Office were currently ongoing. Read the press release …