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[BEIJING] Fourteen countries in the Asia-Pacific region have agreed to create a network to share expertise on communicating and marketing indigenous knowledge.

"The network will help experts communicate indigenous knowledge on their traditional medicines, hold training programmes in the field, and help members to market traditional medicines," Chen Shuting, director of Chinese website of APTMNET, told SciDev.Net.

Member countries, which include India, Iran, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and China, will each establish a national 'nodal centre' of the network, known as the Asia-Pacific Traditional Medicine Network (APTMNET).

The decision to form the APTMNET was made at a meeting of indigenous knowledge experts last week in Wuhan, in the central Chinese province of Hubei.

China is a key player in the US$75 billion global market for herbal drugs, with annual exports worth US$6 billion. Most other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, however, do not profit so much from their indigenous knowledge. For instance, despite its rich biodiversity and traditional knowledge base, India's exports in the sector total less than US$1 billion.

According to P. Pushpangadan, director of India's National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) and India's representative at the APTMNET meeting, China’s success is due to its application of modern technological tools to accelerate drug development.

 "India lags behind because of its failure to absorb technology for scientific validation of traditional knowledge," he says.

 A task force set up by the Indian government came up with a similar diagnosis in 2000.

The task force also found that the supply of raw materials for herbal medicines in India was "shaky, unsustainable and exploitative". This resulted in a weak resource base, the exploitation of rural people, and poor quality of herbal drugs. Marketing of herbal medicinal products was found to be "inefficient, informal, secretive and opportunistic".

The Department of Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM) has now been identified as the Indian nodal agency for APTMNET. In addition, a sub-regional group of five countries — Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand — has been formed under APTMNET to share information and technology.

According to Chen, member countries will be responsible for the construction and operation costs of their websites, while the Asia and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT) — one of the organisers of the Hubei meeting — will sponsor training programmes and academic exchanges between members. China will offer technological support to other members.

The Chinese version of the APTMNET website was launched in October 2001. It has more than 10 databases covering Chinese traditional medicine resources, China's national standards and laws, pharmaceutical firms making traditional medicines, and patents on traditional medicines.

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