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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Traditional Medicines

Air Date: Week of May 31, 2002

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The World Health Organization has released the first global strategy to document and protect traditional and alternative medicines. Host Steve Curwood spoke to the W.H.O.’s Jonathon Quick about the project.

Transcript

CURWOOD: You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth. The World Health Organization has just released the first global strategy to monitor and protect traditional and herbal medicines. The Organization plans to catalogue thousands of treatments and evaluate how well they work. Joining me is Dr. Jonathan Quick, the director of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy at the W.H.O. Dr. Quick, tell me, why the focus on traditional and herbal medicines now?



QUICK: It’s really a response to the trend of this increasing use in herbal products. And then, globalization has brought concerns about the heritage of traditional knowledge in medicinal plants with some of the traditional healers growing old. And if they’re not passing on their knowledge, it can be lost.



CURWOOD: As part of your strategy, as I understand it, you’re going to catalogue. You’re going to compile information on these various traditional and herbal treatments. How do you go about evaluating the efficacy of these treatments?



QUICK: Well, for many of these treatments, there exists a long history. But there also exists quite a bit of published research, and it varies greatly. So where the data exists, we want to bring it together and make it available for people. Where the evidence doesn’t exist, then we want to try to stimulate research.



CURWOOD: You’ve expressed some concern that traditional knowledge might be lost. How does the World Health Organization plan to respond to these concerns?



QUICK: One is on the medicinal plants themselves, developing good agricultural practices so that there are standards and guidelines on how to preserve the plants. The second is in the area of making the knowledge available on the different alternatives that countries have for protecting the knowledge. There has been so-called bio-piracy where companies have come in and patented a plant. So what some countries are doing -- India, for example -- is establish a traditional knowledge digital library. They put the information in the public domain. And that makes it effectively unpatentable and keeps it available for people.



CURWOOD: What kind of opposition, if any, have you run into in trying to deal with traditional healing and medicine?



QUICK: The enthusiasts basically believe that natural therapies are invariably safe and effective. And, the skeptics basically believe nothing but modern medicine works. Not surprisingly, the reality is somewhere in between. And that’s really what we’re trying to bridge, is this gap between the enthusiasts and the skeptics.



CURWOOD: Dr. Jonathan Quick is director of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy at the World Health Organization. Thanks for taking this time with us today.



QUICK: Pleasure to be with you. Thank you.



[MUSIC: In Be Tween Noise (Steve Roden), "Etarpoave," HUMMING ENDLESSLY IN THE HUSH (New Planet Music – 1995)]

 

Links

Press Release on W.H.O. project">

 

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