Ethical and regulatory issues surrounding African traditional medicine in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Research paper by Aceme A Nyika

Indexed on: 16 Mar '07Published on: 16 Mar '07Published in: Developing World Bioethics


It has been estimated that more than 80% of people in Africa use traditional medicine (TM). With the HIV/AIDS epidemic claiming many lives in Africa, the majority of people affected rely on TM mainly because it is relatively affordable and available to the poor populations who cannot afford orthodox medicine. Whereas orthodox medicine is practiced under stringent regulations and ethical guidelines emanating from The Nuremburg Code, African TM seems to be exempt from such scrutiny. Although recently there have been calls for TM to be incorporated into the health care system, less emphasis has been placed on ethical and regulatory issues. In this paper, an overview of the use of African TM in general, and for HIV/AIDS in particular, is given, followed by a look at: (i) the relative laxity in the application of ethical standards and regulatory requirements with regards to TM; (ii) the importance of research on TM in order to improve and demystify its therapeutic qualities; (iii) the need to tailor-make intellectual property laws to protect traditional knowledge and biodiversity. A framework of partnerships involving traditional healers' associations, scientists, policy makers, patients, community leaders, members of the communities, and funding organizations is suggested as a possible method to tackle these issues. It is hoped that this paper will stimulate objective and constructive debate that could enhance the protection of patients' welfare.