(Read by Dr E.B. Doberstyn, WHO Representative, Thailand)
Distinguished participants, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I have the honour to present greetings from Dr Uton Muchtar Rafei, Regional Director of the WHO South-East Asia Region, to the organizers of the Inter-Regional Workshop on Intellectual Property Rights in the Context of Traditional Medicine and to the distinguished participants. As the Regional Director could not be present here today, I have the honour to read his message. And I quote:
“Traditional medicine is an important part of human health care. It is the sum total of the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theory, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures used in maintaining good health as well as in curing diseases.
The use of medicinal plants in therapy has been known for centuries in all parts of the world. The traditional systems of many developing countries use medicinal plants in formulations or their extracts. Such use among various communities has even led to the discovery and development of a large number of drugs that are now used as therapeutic agents. Digitalis for heart failure, morphine for pain, colchicine for acute attacks of gout, artemisinin for the treatment of drug-resistant malaria are just a few examples of medicines derived from plant sources.
With the tremendous expansion in the use of traditional medicines worldwide, safety and efficacy, as well as quality, of herbal medicines and traditional non-medication therapies have become important concerns for both health authorities and the public. In addition to the safety and efficacy issues, another important issue relating to the protection of knowledge, innovations and practices of traditional and indigenous medicine has been receiving increasing international attention in recent years. The Council on TRIPS of the World Trade Organization has just started the revision of Article 27 - 3(b) which deals with patentability of traditional knowledge. The conclusions and recommendations of this meeting could contribute to the revision of the article.
The global herbal market and industry have been growing rapidly in recent years. Today, medicinal plants enjoy great potential for export. It must be noted that the vast majority of plant resources originate from developing countries. It is recognized that traditional knowledge plays a key role in the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Developing countries are repositories of large resources of medicinal plants. In the past, multinational corporations have exploited these resources by converting them into products of commercial value without paying compensation for the knowledge that was transferred along with the material. At the Convention on Biodiversity held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, members accepted the principle that bio-resources are the sole property of sovereign states and that they have the freedom to use them as tradable commodities. However, most countries in the developing world have not so far enacted legislation to implement the resolutions passed at the Convention. It is necessary to invoke bilateral and multilateral agreements on the basis of accepted norms for the transfer of indigenous germplasms used for research and development or for commercial production.
Access to plant resources and the associated traditional knowledge can provide substantial benefits to companies and research institutes in both developing and developed countries. There is growing concern that knowledge of traditional medicine is at times appropriated, adopted and patented by scientists and industry, with little or no compensation to its custodians, and without their prior informed consent. This is a trade issue, as such products often cross international borders.
The need to protect traditional medicine knowledge and to secure fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of biodiversity and associated traditional medicine knowledge have been fully recognized. At present, existing conventional patent law protection requirements are not applicable to ‘traditional’ knowledge. There is no agreement as to how and what would be the most appropriate and effective way to achieve protection of traditional medicine in developing countries.
This meeting is the fruit of contributions from the African, American, South-East Asian and the Western Pacific Regions of WHO. These regions also have the most important systems of traditional medicine in the world. Exchange of information and interactions would improve knowledge and capability to tackle problems facing these Member countries. The outcome of this meeting will provide Member countries with the basis for tackling issues of Intellectual Property Rights relating to their national traditional medicine programmes.
I wish you all success in your deliberations and a very productive meeting. I also wish you a pleasant stay in Bangkok.” Unquote
I shall, of course, apprise the Regional Director of your deliberations and its outcome. I would like to thank the organizers of this Inter-Regional Workshop for giving me this opportunity to bring the Regional Director’s message to this august gathering.