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ARTS AND CULTURE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
29 August 2006
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS FOR TRADITIONAL HEALERS AND INDIGENOUS PRACTITIONERS: MEASURES IN PLACE: BRIEFING BY MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Acting Chairperson Mr H P Maluleka (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Building a Healthy Nation Through Research: MRC
The Medical Research Council gave a presentation on building a healthy nation. The committee was introduced to the mission, vision, objectives and structure of the MRC. The presentation then touched on issues concerning the process of benefit sharing between traditional healers and scientists, traditional medicine research platforms, clinical trials, and medical trade in South Africa. MRC aimed to be the centre of excellence in traditional medicines research. 74% of the drugs developed from plants could be attributed to the use of indigenous plants in traditional medicine by various communities. However, less than 0.001% of profits from these drugs accrued to the people who provided the leads for the research. Details were given of the based on the Integrated Knowledge Systems Bill, and its processes. It would stimulate and strengthen the contribution of indigenous knowledge to social and economic development in South Africa. Policy drivers included the affirmation of African cultural values, practical measures to develop the economic value of services, and the role of indigenous knowledge in employment and wealth creation and innovation. The presenter tabled the challenges, and the models.
Members asked questions on MRC’s programmes in rural areas, and its support and protection to traditional healers. The use of indigenous names was discussed. Other questions addressed capacity building, preventing exploitation of healers, the number of women and disabled benefiting, the awareness of MRC, and MRC’s involvement in ubejani.
Dr Gilbert M Matsabisa (Medical Research Council (MRC)) stated that the MRC`s vision was to promote and advance indigenous knowledge systems through research and development, thus making them valued health models in the global environment and redressing past neglect in this area. MRC aimed to be the centre of excellence in traditional medicines research regionally and globally, and to be competitive. Dr Matsabisa tabled the organisational structure. He then proceeded to describe and illustrate the clinical evidence for traditional medicine. 74% of the drugs developed from plants could be attributed to the use of indigenous plants in traditional medicine by various communities. The annual sales of drugs developed from traditional medicines amounted to US$43 billion, compared to total pharmaceutical sales of US$130 000 billion in the 1980s. However, less than 0.001% of profits from plant-based drugs emanating from traditional medicine knowledge accrued to the people who provided the leads for the research. Approximately 80% of the rural population used traditional medicines.
Dr Matsabisa listed the drugs obtained from plants, fully outline in the presentation.
Dr Matsabisa then briefed the committee on details of the pending integrated knowledge systems legislation and its processes. He said that the Integrated Knowledge Systems (IKS) policy was an enabling framework to stimulate and strengthen the contribution of indigenous knowledge to social and economic development in South Africa. The main IKS policy drivers in the South African context included the affirmation of African cultural values in the face of globalisation. This was a clear imperative given the need to promote a positive African identity. Further drivers included practical measures for the development of the economic value of services provided by indigenous knowledge holders and practitioners involved in traditional medicine, technologies, spirituality, and indigenous languages, and the role of indigenous knowledge in employment and wealth creation and innovation.
The challenges of the IKS programme were fully presented, and Dr Matsabisa tabled the monetary and non-monetary models.
Mr M Matlala (ANC) asked the MRC if there were other attempts to reach deep rural areas, if the African names of drugs would be lost, how traditional healers would be protected and if the MRC was going to support healers who wanted to start growing their own herbs.
Dr Matsabisa listed examples of pilot programmes in place supporting families in poor communities, who were growing herbs needed to produce medicine, and commented that these programmes also protected the people from exploitation by German businesses. The use of names was problematic, because although African names varied in different areas, the botanical Latin names were globally acknowledged.
Mr C Gololo (ANC) asked how capacity building was done.
Dr Matsabisa responded that healers were in the process of being trained on drug discovery and recording. A number of formerly unskilled people had been trained and were currently working in the MRC labs.
Ms L Mabe (ANC) asked for further clarity on the seven models named to address and prevent exploitation of healers. She also asked what could be done about the exportation of plants to foreign countries.
Dr Matsabisa told the committee that herbs and plants could not be owned by individuals but belonged to the people of South Africa, although clearly people within that community would benefit from the findings in a particular area.
Mr M Sonto (ANC) asked how traditional healers and pharmaceutical companies could come together without traditional healers feeling that their role was being diminished.
Dr Matsabisa responded that MRC did not discourage traditional healers from practising although it did discourage wild harvesting because of matters concerning sustainability.
Ms Mabe also wanted to know what the percentage of women was and how they were benefiting.
Mr Sonto also asked what the Department’s management system was with regard to ownership. He commented that he believed the majority of those working for MRC were women, and that they were also trying to set up committee enterprises.
Mr Matlala asked whether people with disabilities were placed in the program, and who was benefiting from the profits of other projects.
Dr Matsabisa confirmed that the issue of disability still needed to be addressed.
Mr C Gololo(ANC) asked MRC how many doctors it had produced.
Dr Matsabisa stated that traditional healers were not produced by MRC but it was a calling for individuals.
Mr Sonto asked how many healers were aware of the activities of MRC and how many of those people were on board.
Dr Matsabisa mentioned that 120 healers had come forward. The MRC was cautious not to violate people’s trust and preferred to wait to be approached rather than hold campaigns.
Mr B Zulu (ANC) asked if traditional healers were at least given a certificate.
Dr Matsabisa responded that certificates were of little use but empowering people with skills was important.
Mr H Maluleka asked if MRC were working with ubejani.
Dr Matsabisa said that the MRC was not working on ubejani because the University of Kwazulu Natal was dealing with this.
Ms Mabe believed it was important to promote the use of traditional names.
The meeting was adjourned.
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