Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Ending medical dominance over the developing world

By Bhushan Patwardhan, Gerard Bodeker and Darshan Shankar - posted Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Despite the huge advances in modern medicine, most people in the developing world still rely on traditional - and effective - knowledge to treat illness and disease.

Its value in providing affordable healthcare has been recognised by the WHO, and now national and international policymakers are calling for partnerships between modern and traditional medicine to help bridge the equity gap in global public health.

But the two are fundamentally different: whereas traditional knowledge tends to be freely accessible (if culturally specific), modern knowledge is fiercely guarded by a rigid patent system, and dominates thinking in the developed world.


In the face of these differences, how can, or should, we build partnerships?

Urge to protect knowledge

Too often, past interactions have been marked by exploitation. Western biomedical scientists frequently see traditional knowledge as nothing more than an underexploited resource waiting to be systematically prospected and improved.

Such “biopiracy” has led many developing countries to focus on ways of protecting, rather than promoting, their traditional knowledge.

For example, some South American regions have tried legislating against biopiracy but have struggled to implement laws at a national or international level (see "Peruvian region outlaws biopiracy").

Several countries have reorganised their traditional knowledge into systems that Western patent offices can reference for “prior art” - existing inventions already in the public domain. India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), for example, is one of the most sophisticated protective responses to the concerns of biopiracy (see "BioMed Analysis: Keep traditional knowledge open but safe").

Still others use an approach known as access and benefit sharing (ABS). This provides convenient access to traditional knowledge but demands, in return, a fair share of benefits arising from the modified use of traditional products.


For example, the Kani tribal community in Kerala receives funds from an Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer for its contribution to commercialising an anti-stress drug known as Jeevani.

But the Kani case is an exception rather than the rule and the truth is that many operational and conceptual issues concerning ABS remain unresolved.

Cross-cultural challenges

We need a better way of balancing the interests of researchers wanting to develop traditional knowledge for modern medicine and the indigenous custodians of that knowledge, who are entitled to a fair share of any rewards.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in on June 30, 2010.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

10 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Authors

Bhushan Patwardhan is director designate of the Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (IAIM) in Bangalore, India.

Gerard Bodeker is adjunct professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, New York, and a senior clinical lecturer in public health at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Darshan Shankar is founder director of the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 10 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy