Whatever the commercial value of TRM may be, it is well established that TRM plays a crucial role in health care for a large part of the population living in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization,
“…up to 80 per cent of Africans - or more than a half billion people- visit traditional healers for some or all of their medical care. In Africa and in many developing nations, medical services are limited or unobtainable for the majority of the population. It is the traditional healers and birth attendants in rural and urban areas that have historically provided and continue to provide primary healthcare. They are the vital link to supplying the needed services in their communities, and yet their efforts must continue to expand as populations grow, and health concerns continue to increase in complexity and case numbers” (Nelson-Harrison et al, 2002, p. 283).
The function that TRM plays in health care in developing countries has often been overlooked when considering the issue of IPRs protection. Attempts to realize the commercial value of TRM may conflict with the achievement of some public health objectives, particularly increasing access to medicines by the poor. Public health implications will be examined further in section V below.