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Is Traditional Medical Practice in Africa still Community Property?: Lessons from Zimbabwe

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Dhewa, Charles
Conference: Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons
Location: Cheltenham, England
Conf. Date: July 14-18, 2008
Date: 2008
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2172
Sector: New Commons
Social Organization
Region: Africa
Subject(s): medicine
indigenous knowledge
Abstract: "In Africa and other developing countries, herbalists or traditional medical practitioners (TMPs) are the custodians of indigenous knowledge with respect to how people treat themselves. Remedies made from indigenous plants have always been a respectable substitute for conventional medicines. "However, traditional medical practice is facing a number of challenges. Trees and herbs which are the source of medicine for TMPs are disappearing at an alarming rate, especially in Zimbabwe following the land reform programme. Some TMPs are going to neighbouring countries like Mozambique to harvest trees and herbs which used to be abundant in Zimbabwe. Because trees have always been regarded as common property, there have not been enough protection measures even at policy level. "Modern medical practice is protected through patenting where those who invent new medicines and practices receive royalties and recognition for their work. On the other hand, under traditional medical practice, there are no patents because the knowledge is considered common knowledge passed orally to future generation. In response, many TMPs in Zimbabwe are resorting to secrecy as a way of protecting their knowledge. "However, there are positive developments which this paper will try to highlight. Efforts to document traditional medical practice and associated trees and herbs as a way of protecting them are gathering steam. Some TMPs who have often been unwilling to pass on their knowledge are now immersing their children in traditional medical practice. Efforts are underway to strengthen and recognise traditional spiritual healing so that it can survive globalisation. "It is becoming increasingly clear that the enhancement of knowledge of traditional herbal medicine through scientific research is greatly needed. If traditional healers are to gain the respect that, in many cases, they clearly deserve, it will be necessary for them to disclose their information. This information is their own intellectual property and can only be protected if revealed and the owner or originator is clearly named."

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