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TRADITIONAL MEDICINE IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Summary

  • Pre-Colombian traditional medicine – the Mayas:
    The Mayas of Central America have vastly contributed to humanity’s treasure of staple foods and exotic ingredients, such as the “Food of the gods”, Theobroma cacao, among others. Unfortunately, their literature was destroyed with the rest of their cultural heritage. The remaining oral tradition and fragments of their ethno-medicine are helping the sick in present times. Thousands of herbal remedies are used based on Maya tradition.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) and TM/CAM:
    In modern times, WHO established a milestone, giving official recognition to traditional medicine with the Declaration of Alma Ata of 1978.
    The Report of the WHO global survey of traditional medicine or complementary/alternative medicine (TM/CAM) for the Region of the Americas (Geneva, May 2005) lists national policy on traditional medicine in some of the Central American countries, resumed as follows:
    1. The Republics of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua have no national policy. Laws or regulations on TM/CAM do not exist – over 500 herbal medicines are registered. 
    2. The Republic of Guatemala established a national policy as part of “Health for All by the Year 2000”.  Laws and regulations are currently being developed.  The registration system is under revision – number of registered herbal medicines is not known.
  • Target for research:
    WHO’s work in traditional medicine started with emphasis on the African Region. A millennium Declaration (AFR/RC509 of 9 March 2000) urged governments of the Region to recognize the importance of traditional medicine to their health system and as a target for research to influence decision-making. Its conclusion in paragraph 32 states: “The promotion of traditional medicine practices and the use of traditional medicine’s proven efficacy and safety will supplement other efforts to achieve health for all.”

    Research and methods of analysis for herbs that have been used for hundreds of years represent so vast a task that it will probably take decades to show whether a particular medicinal herb, once its efficacy is established, does or does not have secondary effects. Considering the number of herbs from certain regions that will certainly be taken by people from another region, it is very likely that the task of assessing some positive or negative effect on the user would be extremely complicated.

    The need for modern research is universal, but cost of individual projects is beyond those countries dreaming of exporting their natural resources of medicinal herbs on a large scale. If the research were coordinated at the international level, it stands to reason the cost could be greatly reduced. As it is, many such herbs are not listed in the international pharmacopeias.
  • Participation in research for developing countries:
    According to the same WHO Declaration of AFR/RC509, paragraph 31, some critical determinants of success are: ownership of the strategy and effective partnerships. Developing countries’ scientists do not have free regular access to international scientific journals. A strategy is needed to open doors to developing countries’ participation in research with the rest of the world. 
  • TM/CAM Research Network – www.tm-cam-research.net:
    Even if there are efforts being made (by WHO and others) to coordinate research on and classification of herbal medicines, it is clearly too little and too slow. Populations of all ages are suffering from the spread of old and new illnesses. In a “globalized” world the most practical action would be to create an international research network of physicians willing to consider and learn about herbs that have an ancient tradition of efficacy. Their research would be published online, filling the gap of access to international journals, with immense benefit to all interested parties and most of all the sick.  Indigenous populations would also enjoy revenues.  Many people believe that such herbs give relief in medicinal form for most illnesses.  As long as it is possible to connect with thousands on the other side of the world, there is no sense in making them wait for decades to have access to better health from these sources.  The sick cannot wait.

 

Edda CONTRERAS
Geneva, 30 Octubre 2013