Bridge gap between natural products and diseases | Sunday Observer

Bridge gap between natural products and diseases

Would a multi-disciplinary approach pave the way for Sri Lanka to burrow in the ‘goldmine’ of the global wellness market? The organisers say ‘Yes’. In a bid to cut out a path to the already robust traditional and complementary (alternative) medicine market, the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine and the Department of Ayurveda in collaboration with the University of Sri Jayawardenapura has organised ‘TradMed International 2017 – Sri Lanka’ a symposium, exhibition and trade fare to be held from November 23 to 25, at the Water’s Edge, Kotte.

Tradmed International 2017 will be the first multi-disciplinary effort within Sri Lanka to discuss, discover, develop and deal in the country’s potential at the global wellness market.

The main objectives of TradMed 2017, are, “to share the expertise and novelties in evidence based practices of Traditional Medical systems(TM) in disease prevention, diagnosis and management; to develop safe, effective, quality and standardised products using modern science and technology, as well as the diagnostic tools and bio-medical information systems in TM,” say the organisers.

In addition, a ministerial level commitment of the participating countries to implement the significant outcomes of the symposium, and private-public partnerships in the research and development of traditional and complementary medicine state the expected outcomes.

The symposium is to be held under two main themes, subdivided into 12 tracks. While modern scientific interpretation of traditional manuscripts; traditional medical practices on non-communicable diseases; restoring indigenous medical systems; healthy lifestyles; non pharmacological interventions and evidence based practices will be explored under the main theme service delivery for health promotion: safety, quality, efficacy and regulation consists of the tracks on disease prevention and management; quality assurance and standardization of products; pharmacological study of ingredients; cultivation, propagation and conservation of medicinal plants; intellectual property rights related issues and product development and diagnosis towards personalized treatment.

Around 37 academics from 13 countries will lead the discussions along with traditional and complementary medicine experts from Sri Lanka. A range of traditional indigenous holistic practices in Asia such as, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Naturopathy, Gasan therapy, Aroma therapy, Reflexology, Hydro therapy, Reiki, Korean treatment and Massage therapy, Yoga & Meditation, Gampo, Alexandra techniques and Japanese, and Thai medicine are to be explored at the symposium.

Health aspects

Though they take a multipronged approach, health aspects are at the fore. “Modern science and technology has revolutionized medicine but have they really been successful in eliminating or preventing most of the deadly diseases?” questions Project Co-Chair, Professor Ranil de Silva, Director, World Class University Project. According to global health statistics a death occurs every 60 seconds from breast cancer and every 6 seconds from diabetes; one heart attack occurs every 4 seconds and a stroke every 5 seconds ; one dementia patient is identified every 3 seconds; he points out.

“We have not been able to conquer the health needs in the world. On the other hand we have in Sri Lanka a 5,000 year old indigenous traditional system based on our own resources. Of the medicinal plant species in Sri Lanka, 12% are endemic. The objective of this conference is to bridge the gap between our natural products and these deadly diseases, in conquering or prevention,” says De Silva.

Economic aspects come next. “It won’t be presumptuous to say that we are sitting on a goldmine,” says De Silva. According to his research the global wellness market values at USD 3.7 trillion, of which cosmetic and geriatric medication contributes over a quarter at USD 999 billion. The rest comprises complementary and alternative medicine USD 199 billion, spa industry USD 99 billion, fitness and mind USD 542 billion, nutrition and healthy eating USD 648 billion. There is a “vast economic potential that Sri Lanka could have with this workshop,”he opines.

Public private partnerships

But, does Sri Lanka have enough infrastructure and research facilities to do so? What the country already has is “enough to explore this market. We have human resources. We have infrastructure to facilitate research, even though it is not the very high tech. However, we provide research facilities in world’s premiere research institutions through linking them with the Universities such as the Sri Jayawardenapura University,” De Silva says and explains that they already have shared research programs with universities and institutes in Australia, the EU and Japan.

“Here is where science and business go hand in hand. What we are trying to do is to have public private partnerships. There are so many local universities, local research institutes, and also on the other side we have the industries. There are a lot of foreign companies coming. There will definitely be public private partnerships and the government will put up money, through grants for research and development for the public institutes,” says De Silva.

The education and trade exhibition to run parallel with the symposium invites businesses involved in traditional and complementary medicine to exhibit their products. Over 120 exhibitors are expected to be present.

The expected benefits to the business community, through business to business (B to B) and business to academic (B to A) partnerships include generating new business leads with manufacturers, suppliers and distributors; creating new markets with the international trade-related business fraternity; understanding major trends and rising demands in the herbal marketplace.

Health and wellness tourism

In Sri Lanka, indigenous medicine has been practised for thousands of years. A King renowned for his skills as a healer, King Buddhadasa, who documented his healing practices in “Sararthasangrahaya” still affects local indigenous medical practitioners. With meditation and healthy dietary habits embedded in culture and many places suitable for recreation and recuperation, health and wellness tourism is also on the cards of the symposium. The symposium had allocated sessions to focus on different practices of meditation in the South Asian region to be conducted by a meditation expert from Harvard University, USA.

Personalised Medication, an integral part of indigenous medical practice where a person is treated with medicaments specifically suited for his or her physical condition, is another area explored at the symposium.

Interestingly, categorization of patients practised in the traditional medicine is proven through modern genetic tests, explains De Silva. Therefore, ‘Ayurgenomics’ a collaboration of techniques in traditional medicine and modern genetic research is another area of focus at the symposium.

Protecting traditional knowledge

How does it affect in the protection of traditional knowledge? Would it open the country for foreign exploitation? What of the concerns of other countries patenting products from Sri Lankan plants? “The entire objective of this is making new products, making innovation and getting into the global market with our own patents or joint patents,” says De Silva. “Our aim is not to be a country providing raw material, our aim is to make new products with the help of the foreign companies and place Sri Lanka on the global map for innovation in wellness medication.”

“About 3 international symposiums, workshops and discussions take place per year at various levels related to traditional medicine within the country. However, this symposium provides us a learning forum, sharing the best practices from other countries who already have taken measures to protect their traditional and indigenous knowledge bases.” says Dr. Danister L. Perera, Chairperson of the Project’s Scientific Committee.

He stresses the importance of having a national data base for knowledge protection. “ Traditional knowledge of this country is endangered as long as it stays hidden. Then, anyone can exploit the person who holds this knowledge or have access to it. Much of our traditional indigenous medical practices still stay hidden as family heritage, trade secrets or as ola-leaf manuscripts. Only a fraction of this knowledge is published,” he says.

One sub-category of the symposium is dedicated to traditional knowledge. Traditional medical practitioners will be presenting their experience on different subjects; about 100 papers will be presented on modern research on traditional medicine.

“Herbal medications and genetic resources are protected through different legislature, such as, the Intellectual Property Act and the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. So, we have some regulatory measures,” says Mrs. Geethanjali Ranawaka, Director General, National Intellectual Property Office (NIPO).

However, as Sri Lanka at present does not have specific legislature to prevent and penalize theft of indigenous knowledge, “NIPO is in the process of designing and drafting legislature.

We are at the initial stage, fact finding and holding discussions with various stakeholders. We hope policy documents could be completed by end of next year,” she says. NIPO is supported by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in this endeavour. “There is no precedence. However, some countries such as China place their traditional knowledge in the public domain, so there is no theft,” she says.

‘Colombo Declaration’

Questions such as these will be addressed through a ministerial level agreement, of the participating countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) will facilitate a declaration related to the conference committing participating countries to implement important outcomes of the Conference.