[A2k] Intervention of WHO at WIPO IGC on IP and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore

Thirukumaran Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Apr 18 05:07:39 PDT 2012


On 17 April 2012 the World Health Organization delivered the following intervention under agenda item 6, "Traditional Knowledge", at the 21st session of WIPO's Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

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Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore

 

Twenty-First Session

Geneva, April 16 to 20, 2012

 

THE PROTECTION OF TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE

 

AGENDA ITEM 6: Traditional Knowledge

 

DRAFT WHO INTERVENTION

 

Honorable Chairman, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

 

We are very honored by this opportunity to address the member states of WIPO and the participants of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore.

 

The effective protection of traditional knowledge includes the preservation of traditional know-how, practices, skills, and innovations in a variety of contexts, including medicinal knowledge and related remedies. There are many therapeutic philosophies, products and practices in the realm of tradition medicine. From our understanding, "traditional medicine" is the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illnesses.[1] The WHO has acknowledged and embraced traditional medicine as a part of health care systems worldwide for many years, and developed its first official traditional medicine strategy in 2002.

 

There is therefore an overlap between the work of this Committee and the work of the World Health Organization. Decisions made by this Committee and Member States of WIPO may very well have an impact on public health. For this reason, we welcome this opportunity to take the floor to address you today and to briefly introduce some public health considerations with regard to the protection of traditional knowledge.

 

It is in the interest of public health that the potential of traditional medicine is realized and made accessible to a wider population. Therefore, it is important that any alternative intellectual property protection system for traditional knowledge does not restrict access to traditional medicine to the detriment of efforts to further develop existing treatments, to develop new products or to provide access to such treatments in a wider patient population.  

 

Traditional medicine is widely used and is of rapidly growing health and economic importance. In some Asian and African countries up to 80% of the population uses traditional medicine to help meet their health care needs. In Asia and Latin America, traditional medicine has played a historic and cultural role in healthcare systems and continues to be integrated in national health services. Given the widespread use of traditional medicine, providers are looking for increased recognition and support for their practice and knowledge. Professionals in modern medicine on the other hand often still have reservations about the purported benefits of traditional medicine. It is true that despite the potential of many traditional therapies and their widespread and centuries old use, many of them remain unevaluated and their use is not monitored. This lack of knowledge often does not allow physicians to identify safe and effective traditional therapies and to promote their rational use. For traditional medicine to play a greater role as a source of rational health care, more research is required on the safety, efficacy and quality of related products and practices.

 

Traditional medicine as such is also an important source of knowledge for the further development of new modern medicines and treatments. For example, many medicinal products used in today’s modern medicine are in fact derived from compounds isolated from or found in a medicinal plant or developed through the application of modern technologies to traditional medical knowledge.

 

It is in this context that intellectual property rights and the work of this Committee play a role. The WHO's mandate under the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property is to maximize innovation to meet the needs of developing countries and to promote access to medicines for all. In the sphere of protecting traditional knowledge, the Global Strategy notes the importance of access to traditional medicinal knowledge in the patent examination process, including, where appropriate, information on traditional medicine in digital libraries, in order to prevent the misappropriation of such knowledge. The Global Strategy also supports related ongoing discussions, including the deliberations in this Committee.

 

From the perspective of public health, a new system for protecting traditional knowledge should not only provide for a fair and equitable sharing of benefits, but should also support public health objectives.

 

To realize the full public health benefits of traditional medicine, further research in this area is required. We have already mentioned briefly the widespread use and the great importance of traditional medicine for public health as well as the need to gather further information on the safety, efficacy and quality of existing treatments. Such inquiries will allow traditional medicine to play a greater role as a source of rational health care. Any new sui generis protection system of traditional knowledge should support public health objectives as much as possible and should promote the further research on traditional medicine in order to promote patient safety and rational use.

 

We have also mentioned the importance of traditional medicine as a potential source for the development of new modern medicines. It would be desirable that any new protection system for traditional knowledge should pursue ongoing innovation as an objective. Any new protection system should not only provide protection to the owner of traditional knowledge, but should also allow the development of new treatments based on traditional medicine and more broadly allow for innovation for public health and the sharing of any benefits arising out of the commercialization of resulting products and therapies.

 

Both further research into existing traditional medicine as well as development of new treatments and therapies require a certain degree of access to the related knowledge. As the WHO Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health pointed out in its report, there is a risk “that introducing a form of intellectual property protection for traditional knowledge may actually have the effect of restricting access by others, thereby inhibiting downstream innovation”[2].

 

Any alternative intellectual property protection system for traditional knowledge should not restrict access to traditional medicine to the detriment of efforts to further develop existing treatments, to develop new products or to provide access to such treatments to a wider patient population.

 

It is in the interest of public health that the potential of traditional medicine is realized and made accessible to a wider public. These objectives are not contradictory to other concurring principles and objectives, namely the principle of prior informed consent, the need to prevent the misappropriation of traditional knowledge and the need for a fair and equitable benefit sharing system with regard to the commercialization of traditional knowledge. This would allow for the mutual benefit of the public and of the holders of traditional knowledge, whether individuals or communities.

 

Although it is not within the context of traditional medicine, an example of an access and benefit sharing system is the recently adopted WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework for the sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits. The Framework balances the need to share influenza viruses of human pandemic potential on the one hand and on the other, the benefits arising from the sharing of these viruses, including access to and distribution of affordable diagnostics and treatments. It considers these two objectives as equally important parts of a collective action framework for global public health. The Framework thus manages to provide for access and benefit sharing while meeting public health needs.

 

In conclusion, we wish to congratulate this Committee for the progress made so far on this important topic. We are confident that you will be successful in fulfilling your mandate to create an international legal instrument to ensure the effective protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions and we hope that this legal instrument will also contribute to innovation and promote access to new medical products derived from traditional knowledge for the benefit of public health.

 

Thank you.


[1] WHO, Traditional medicine Fact sheet N°134 December 2008, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs134/en/ (WHO 2008)

[2] Report of the Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH), page 164.

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Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)

thiru at keionline.org



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