Trad jazz

A number of stories in the past few days have highlighted some novel initiatives to “mainstream” traditional medicine in Africa and China. First there was an article in The Economist on the effort by the Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards to develop a pharmacopoeia, or database of plants used in traditional medicine. By early next year this will include information on about 50 plants and how they are used across Africa. Then today there’s a report from a WHO meeting in Lusaka saying that institutionalizing traditional medicine would improve the care provided by African health systems. And there’s also news that the Chinese government has launched a programme to test the safety of traditional medicines, the latest in a series of projects on traditional medicine in China (see links at bottom of the page).

3 Replies to “Trad jazz”

  1. Two aspects of this story make me want to comment. First, The Economist (as one might expect) stresses the potential impact of the African pharmacopeia on trade. The paper especially likes the idea that because the database will contain information on active ingredients and what the remedy is good for, that will enable buyers to set standards and make sure they are getting active material. But there is no mention of the negative consequences of boosting trade without either regulating harvest from the wild or setting up “farm” schemes to supply the raw materials.

    Maybe that’s because The Economist (like the Independent) refers to a plant called ‘red stinkwood’ without further identifying it as Prunus africanus. I’m guessing this is from a press release issued by the AAMPS, but I can’t be sure because the web site is not exactly up to date. The point is that red stinkwood is one of the common names of Prunus africanus, a name that will strike a chord with anyone concerned with the conservation of plants in the wild. The bark is used to treat prostate cancer, and trade in the bark has brought the wild population close to extinction.

    More trade may thus not be such a good thing. And giving the plant a value does nothing to strengthen conservation unless it also has an owner.

    The other point is more of a question: by registering and describing traditional medicinal plants, do the authorities hope to be able to exercise some sort of rights over their exploitation, or at least to share in any benefits that may flow? I don’t know. But just this morning I havested a crop of spam that included several offers for a drug called Hoodia Life, another name familiar to those who follow these things.

    Anyone out there know what the value of databases and registries would be in protecting rights?

  2. Yes, this goes back to a topic I think we discussed earlier in this blog about the “commodization” of PGR, as exemplified by the very common trend these days to use “production chains” as a framework for organizing research and development of neglected and underutilized plants. The point, I suppose, is that if you are interested in sustainable use, and thus conservation, just hanging everything on strengthening the commodity chain will not necessarily do the trick. And I do know of one study looking at databases for the protection of IK, from the UN University in Japan, which you can download here.

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