Opening Address by Dr. Achmad Sujudi
Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Republic of Indonesia
Distinguished Delegates of ASEAN Member Countries,
Distinguished Experts and Facilitators,
Distinguished Guests, ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you all today to the ASEAN Workshop on the TRIPS Agreement and Traditional Medicine.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks the delegates from the ASEAN Member Countries and the experts for joining and facilitating this workshop. I would also like to thank the World Health Organization for its financial and technical contributions, and the Rockefeller Foundation for its financial support to this workshop.
As most of you are aware, this workshop is a follow-up to the ASEAN Workshop on the TRIPS Agreement and its Impact on Pharmaceuticals, which took place here in Jakarta, in May 2000.
The workshop is also conducted to strengthen the collaboration of ASEAN countries with regard to the implications of trade liberalization and international trade agreements on health which have been highlighted both in the 5th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting in Yogyakarta, and the 4th ASEAN Informal Summit Meeting in Singapore last year.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Concern for a potential negative impact of international trade agreements on access to drugs has brought together experts and participants from different sectors, notably intellectual property, trade and health to discuss such matter thoroughly. One of the issues identified is the need to develop appropriate policies for the protection of indigenous medicinal knowledge.
Today, again, we bring together people from different sectors to this work, since the global policies that affect people's lives locally are multifaceted and cut across sectors. One of our concerns is again related to safeguarding our people's access to the medicines they use, particularly those which they have used since a long time, the traditional medicines.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
International treaties, national laws and customary rules on such ownership exist - but their objectives vary, their multitude can be confusing and at times there seem to be contradictions among them. Moreover, the concepts devised in a certain setting may not always engender satisfactory results in a different context.
This is exemplified by the application of laws on intellectual property rights, as outlined in the TRIPS Agreement, to the context of traditional medicine, where they create a dilemma of public versus private interests. Therefore, it seems trade-offs are to be made between health and development, between sharing knowledge so all can obtain its benefits or keeping it secret, so some can benefit financially.
Other complex issues arise at the interface of intellectual property rights and traditional medicine; they relate to ownership rights over traditional knowledge and over a nation's biological resources, and to appropriate and equitable ways to further develop such knowledge and exploit those resources in a sustainable and equitable way.
All these issues are particularly relevant to the ASEAN Region: the ASEAN Region is a rich region. The wealth of biodiversity in our countries is overwhelming, and our healers and traditional practitioners have ample knowledge of medicinal uses of our many plants and herbs. Yet poverty is still existing in most of our countries, and often the poorest among us depend for their health care entirely on traditional medicinal knowledge and treatments.
It is therefore our duty to ensure the continued availability of such medicines and treatments.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe that the issues identified in this workshop are complex, and devising solutions which accommodate the interest and perspectives of the various stakeholders will not be easy. However, many of the experts who are present in this workshop are knowledgeable in their own countries and communities with new ways of protecting biological resources and indigenous knowledge, using both formal and customary laws. Some have experimented with capturing ancient knowledge in modern and electronic databases.
Therefore I am confident that this workshop will be an opportunity for constructive and fruitful exchange of experiences, and I hope options can be identified practical and inventive solutions for ASEAN can be recommended.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In full hopes and with the blessing of God Almighty on us all, I hereby declare the ASEAN Workshop on TRIPS Agreement and Traditional Medicine officially opened.
Remarks by Dr. Palitha Abeykoon
WHO South-East Asia Regional Office
Honorary Minister of Health Dr. Sujudi,
Distinguished Delegates from the Member Countries of ASEAN,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, let me convey to you greetings and good wishes from Dr. Uton Muchtar Rafei, the Regional Director of the WHO Southeast Asia Region. The honorable Minister of Health, who is a good friend of Dr. Uton, is well aware that Dr. Uton considers ASEAN an extremely valuable institution in the area of health development and that he remains an ardent supporter of the ASEAN initiatives in health. Dr. Uton regrets his inability to be here today, as he is attending the meeting of the Secretaries of Health of our Region. Under the circumstances, it is my privilege to represent the WHO Regional Office for Southeast Asia, as well as the Regional Office for Western Pacific Region of WHO, at this workshop.
Three of the countries of the Southeast Asia Region of WHO are members of the ASEAN and we have been extremely pleased to work hand in hand with all of the ASEAN countries, in a seamless partnership.
Of all the significant initiatives of ASEAN, our collaboration in the area of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicines stands out as a success story and as an example for the proposed collaboration in some other areas.
In particular we can draw satisfaction and inspiration from our collaboration within the Bi-regional Working Group on Technical Cooperation in Pharmaceuticals and now in traditional medicine. The memorandum of understanding signed between ASEAN and WHO in April 1997 identified 9 major areas for potential collaboration. During a review of this memorandum in 1999, it was unanimously concluded that there was a great potential for more vigorous collaboration in the area of essential drugs, vaccines and traditional medicine. It was also seen that there are good opportunities for enhancing donor involvement, involvement of civil society and other partners, and for seeking their commitment.
Having said that, let me now on behalf of WHO thank the Government of Indonesia for organizing this very important meeting, which, we believe, is very timely and extremely important for all the ASEAN countries. In fact the subject of this meeting constitutes an area of work that we need to take very seriously and that we need to address with utmost care, backed by full knowledge and information. Unless we do this together, there may be many adverse and costly consequences to our countries in the near future; consequences that we can ill afford, and that would certainly be detrimental for the achievement of our goals of equity and fairness in health care.
Recently in India, we launched a research programme between Oxford University in England and the Indian Council for Medical Research to study the anti-retroviral properties of some traditional medicines, herbs and plants which are present in India.
So the field is growing, it is growing rapidly. It is growing very rapidly, because traditional medicine is for us an important part of health care. It is also an important part of our life.
By traditional medicine as we commonly define it, we refer to the sum total of all the knowledge, all the skills and practices which are based on theories, beliefs, practical experiences indigenous to the different countries of our region, the different cultures, used over the years to maintain good health as well as to heal diseases. It is in fact our culture and our heritage.
Some of the experiences handed down from one generation to another, over the centuries, in different communities, have been crystallized and have even led to the discovery and development of a large number of drugs that are now used regularly as well-trusted therapeutic agents. You know many of them. A few good examples are digitalis for heart failure, morphine for pain and arthemisine for drug-resistant malaria. We now also have very good prospects of finding some herbal formulations for diseases such as HIV.
The western medical press, which was quiet for a long time, is now paying increasing attention to traditional medicine. In 1995, the National Institute of Health in the US recommended that complementary or alternative medical therapy and medicines should be included in the medical and nursing curricula of all medical schools. A survey in 1998 found that 75 out of 125 medical schools in the US offered courses of some form in complementary and alternative therapies. Therefore, the time is long past when traditional medicine was a non-issue in medicine in the western world. And this interest in the western world will grow. This growing interest, while being good for the development and progress of traditional medicine, particularly for herbal medicines, will also herald numerous problems and complications.
On one hand, there will be issues related to safety etc.; this means that quality assurance and quality control will become crucial issues. On the other side there is another set of problems that will be driven, and sometimes dictated, by the marketplace and commercial interests. One of these concerns is the protection of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices. The Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization has just started the revision of TRIPS Article 27.3(b) which deals with the patentability of traditional knowledge. This is of the utmost immediacy and importance to all of us. Therefore, I believe that the outcomes of this meeting would have a strong relevance and bearing on the ongoing discussions at the World Trade Organization.
Right now the global herbal market is growing exponentially. Medicinal plants from our countries enjoy great export potential. There is a great urgency to adopt suitable measures to protect our biodiversity and heritage. 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, which have the right to use them as tradable commodities. However, what is the actual situation in our countries? Most countries have not yet enacted any legislation to implement the resolutions passed in Rio de Janeiro.
This situation is compounded by the fact that generosity and altruism are the norm in our eastern culture, and wisdom is often given free of charge. This is well illustrated by some of the Thai writing on the subject wherein many authors of traditional medicine texts have explicitly written that, "there was nothing to be given back in return for this knowledge". Times have changed, and nowadays instances of such generosity are being exploited and biopiracy is raising its head, and is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in our part of the world.
Thus we now face a situation where traditional knowledge is at times appropriated, adopted and patented by scientists and industry, with little or no compensation or benefit to the original custodians, and even without their prior consent. This is also a trade issue as many of these products cross international borders. The need to protect traditional medicine and traditional knowledge and to secure equitable and fair sharing of benefits derived from the use of biodiversity have been fully recognized. The current, conventional patent law protections are not applicable to traditional medicine. As yet there is no agreement as to how and what would be the most appropriate and effective ways to achieve protection of traditional medicine in our countries.
The question for us therefore is: how do we strike a balance between encouraging scientists to make discoveries and yet not to allow anyone to exploit and commercialize the natural heritage of our countries?
It is therefore necessary to invoke bilateral and multilateral agreements on the basis of accepted norms for the transfer of indigenous knowledge and germplasm used for research and development or for commercial production.
Consideration of all of these issues and concerns makes it patently obvious how important and significant this meeting here will be for all our countries. Exchange of information and the contributions from the galaxy of experts you have been able to assemble here, including some from outside Asia, no doubt augurs well for all of us - to develop the capacity and the practical mechanisms to handle these problems related to intellectual property rights in relation to traditional medicine. We need to advance from identifying problems and constraints, to finding practical and suitable options and solutions to address these problems. We need practical recommendations that can be implemented collectively by ASEAN and individually by the respective countries.
On behalf of the WHO and our Regional Director, I wish you the very best in your deliberations. Once again I thank the organizers for this very timely initiative.
I shall convey the outcome of this meeting to our Regional Director and to WHO in general, and we stand ready to continue working in partnership with ASEAN in addressing these issues and in finding ways of pressing ahead. We owe it to our people and to the generations yet to be born to preserve and to nurture this heritage of ours.
Thank you very much.