Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • 'African law' needed to protect traditional medicine


The African Union and World Health Organization have been urged to draft a model law that African countries could use to protect traditional knowledge of medicinal plants.

The call was made at a four-day workshop that the organisations held in Brazzaville, Congo, last week (28-31 March).

About 80 per cent of people in Africa rely on traditional healers, and researchers are increasingly seeking to tap their knowledge for potential sources of new drugs.

However, few African countries have a legal framework for controlling access to indigenous knowledge and biological resources, or ensuring benefits arising from their use are shared fairly.

Lawyers, scientists, traditional healers and policy experts at the Brazzaville meeting drafted guidelines intended to help fill the policy gap.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the document discusses ways that national institutions and international agencies can improve their systems for protecting intellectual property rights relating to traditional medicine.

Delegates also urged states to promote and document traditional medicine, and said a global consensus must be reached on how to protect it.

To this end, they said, the WHO and African Union should mediate between African states and agencies such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, which promotes international protection of intellectual property rights.

The WHO's regional director for Africa, Luis Sambo, warned that policies should consider both those holding traditional knowledge and the communities that could benefit from it.

The document, entitled 'Policy and legislative guidelines for the protection and promotion of traditional and indigenous medical knowledge in Africa', will be released after the WHO has reviewed it.

We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.