Health Minister Joseph hopes to “harness the capacities” of traditional medicine

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Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) held its 40th anniversary lecture series on “Transforming Health and Wellness: Use of Traditional Medicines—Silver Economy.” The panelists were Nutrition Consultant Dorothy Graham-Charles, Pharmacist Yvelle Charles-Jenkins and General Practitioner, Dr Petra Miller (left to right) (photo via ECCB).
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By Robert A Emmanuel

[email protected]

Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph said that there needs to be collective thinking on how to harness the economic benefits of traditional medicines, taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge that our ancestors have had, using these medicines.

Last week Thursday, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) held its 40th-anniversary lecture series in Antigua on “Transforming Health and Wellness: Use of Traditional Medicines—Silver Economy.”

He alluded to the idea of holding medical trials, in partnership with the University of the West Indies (UWI) Five Islands Campus, on the use of traditional medicines.

“Could we have research where we have some of the beneficiaries, with their consent, who will take the traditional medicine that is deemed to be effective and safe and then you have another group prescribed modern medicine and see the outcome, and if we were to get the University of the West Indies, ECCB, Medical Benefits and harness their resources…then we can really make good of this knowledge before us,” he exclaimed.

Traditional medicines refer to the use of natural plants and remedies which were developed through generational experiences and cultural beliefs.

According to the World Health Organisation, traditional medicine is part of a growing trillion-dollar global health, wellness, beauty, and pharmaceutical industry with over 40% of pharmaceutical formulations are based on natural products and landmark drugs, including aspirin, originating from traditional medicine.

Meanwhile, modern medicine is the standardisation of medical practices and tools to cater.

On Thursday, a panel of medical experts presented their views on the need to develop the existing space of traditional medicines in the Caribbean.

According to General Practitioner Dr Petra Miller, the only difference between modern medicine and traditional medicine is the standardisation of dosing.

“There are so many examples of traditional medicine that have been standardised to form modern medicine and now…are we neglecting our useful traditional medicinal remedies? Can they be helpful in abating the burden of non-communicable diseases on our community? The only difference [between them] is standardising, dosing, duration and interactions,” Dr Miller said.

Pharmacist Yvelle Charles-Jenkins noted that traditional medicine is still used by a majority of the world’s population today and thus has a place in today’s society.

She argued that the use of traditional medicine helps to maintain cultural roots, address any supply chain issues and reduce the effects of illnesses and infections which have gotten stronger over the years.

Meanwhile, Nutrition Consultant Dorothy Graham-Charles explained that persons should engage in the purchase of local produce over its imported counterparts, termed the “ugly fruit movement.”

Additionally, the Principal of UWI Five Islands, Professor Densil Williams explained that the region needs to take advantage of the economic viability of traditional medicine through “formalisation.”

“The problem is that we are too informal with this…so in order for us to build out the formal structure around traditional medicine, we have to get all the players to the table—we have to get the policymakers, researchers and the capital to come to the table,” he said.

Professor Williams noted the work of the UWI Mona campus in developing the field of traditional medicine studies.

“We have the Natural Products Institute that is doing a plethora of work in this area as well, but what we need is a coming together of all the parties,” he said.

The Natural Products Institute of the University of the West Indies, Mona, (NPI), is a dedicated research facility within the Faculty of Science and Technology established in 1999.

Researchers at NPI evaluate the biological activity of Caribbean natural resources, including plants and fungi, as well as the patterns of traditional knowledge held by local communities across Jamaica and the Caribbean about these natural resources and their ecosystems. 

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