Officials are looking at recommending legislation to give more recognition to traditional healing and herbal remedies as part of a new National Cultural Policy, according to bureaucrats from the National Institute of History and Culture.
At the bi-annual Traditional Healers Conclave in Belize held this month in the City of Belmopan officials from the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) outlined a plan to formulate a national culture policy for Belize. NICH believes that traditional healing and alternative medicine can be elevated and promoted in by recognizing it in legislation.
One plan is to bottle and package traditional medicinal herbs and place them side by side with medications at government pharmacies in public hospitals. Associate Director of Archaeology John Morris in his address suggested that one of the recommendations that ought to be made to government is to include traditional healing as part of the services offered in Belize’s local hospitals saying “…half of our medicines come from plants anyway. Using our own traditional plants could save Belize a lot of money in medicine imports,” he said. Another idea raised the meeting is to ask the government to make tax and concessions to benefit local producers of medicinal herbs that can be better packaged, graded and used locally and also exported.
The Director of the NICH arm Institute of Cultural and Social research Nigel Encalada cited statistics gathered from the World Health Organisation:
* In some Asian and African countries, 80% of the population depend on traditional medicine for primary health care.
* Herbal medicines are the most lucrative form of traditional medicine, generating billions of dollars in revenue.
* Traditional medicine can treat various infectious and chronic conditions: new antimalarial drugs were developed from the discovery and isolation of artemisinin from Artemisia annua L., a plant used in China for almost 2000 years.
* Counterfeit, poor quality or adulterated herbal products in international markets are serious patient safety threats.
* More than 100 countries have regulations for herbal medicines.
Mr. Encalada says there is a clear need to give more recognition to traditional healing, protect medicinal plants from being hijacked and patented by pharmaceutical companies, and save millions of dollars in foreign exchange that the country expends importing medications from industrialized countries.
Speaking about the need to build awareness for and protect native medicinal plants, Mr. Morris cited a classic example relating to the cacao plant. According to Mr. Morris, local archaeologists some time ago discovered a few plants of the original cacao species first domesticated by the Maya some 2,000 years ago. He explained that Belizean officials had to take extraordinary steps to secure these plants and prevent a foreign chocolate company that was interested in obtaining samples with a view to taking out a patent on this native plant.