Documenting indigenous knowledge about Africa’s traditional medicine: A myth or a reality?
This article examines the global debates about indigenous knowledge and Africa’s traditional medicine. It explores whether it is possible to document all the elements of indigenous knowledge about Africa’s traditional medicine that is used for the treatment of diverse forms of sickness. Certain types of Africa’s traditional medicines used for the treatment of different forms of sickness encompass associated knowledge in the form of spiritual rituals that may be considered mostly by religious leaders as devilish in nature. It may be difficult to document the spiritual elements of traditional medicine that is deemed devilish as traditional healers consider it top secret. The non-documentation of the spiritual rituals that form part of the traditional medicine is tantamount to documenting certain elements and not the entire process of a particular medicine. The raison d'être for documenting Africa’s traditional medicine stem from the notion that there is an increasing extinction of medicinal plants due to environmental degradation, deforestation, agricultural encroachment, over harvesting and population growth that is associated with the loss of indigenous knowledge on plant use for medicine. Hence there is a need to document medicinal plants with their associated knowledge. The article explores Africa’s traditional medicines that can and cannot be documented in its entirety and proposes measures within Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in the form of patents through which certain types of traditional medicines used for the treatment of particular illnesses could be documented in their entirety.
Keywords: Africa’s traditional medicine, indigenous knowledge, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) – patent