Book by the South Centre, 2002
Protection and Promotion of Traditional Medicine – Implications for Public Health in Developing Countries
Traditional medicine (TRM) includes knowledge and practices either codified in writing or transmitted orally. TRM serves the health needs of the vast majority of people in developing countries, where access to “modern” health care services and medicine is limited by economic and cultural factors. TRM is broadly used in such countries, often being the only affordable treatment available to poor people and those in remote communities. In a context of persisting poverty and marginalization and, in particular, in view of the high prices generally charged for patented medicines, the relevance of TRM in developing countries may, in the future, increase. TRM has been recognized in western science as a valuable source of products and treatments for health care. It often provides leads for the development and commercialization of new pharmaceutical products. However, western intellectual property systems have regarded TRM, as well as other components of traditional knowledge (TK), as information in the “public domain”, freely available for use by anybody. This has meant that TRM and other traditional knowledge has been exploited in Western contexts without any recognition, moral or economic, to those who originated or held the relevant knowledge. Further, diverse components of TRM have been appropriated under intellectual property rights (IPRs) by researchers and commercial enterprises, without any compensation to the knowledge’s creators or holders. While all these forms of ‘protection’ are important, this paper focuses on issues relating to protection of TRM in the context of IPRs, both as a defensive and offensive strategy. Its main purpose is to try to clarify the extent to which IPRs may be used in relation to TRM, and what the implications of such use may be for public health.
This article was tagged: Access to Medicines, Health, Intellectual Property, Patent, Public Health, Traditional Knowledge