Taking stock of key international policy frameworks addressing biodiversity, traditional knowledge and health

The global development policy construct strongly emphasizes biodivserity conservation and health security. The sustainable development goals for instance cannot be achieved when there is a high prevalence of debilitating illness and poverty, and the health of a population cannot be maintained without a responsive health system and a healthy environment. Environmental degradation, mismanagement of natural resources, and unhealthy consumption patterns and lifestyles impact health. Ill-health, in turn, hampers poverty alleviation and economic development .

Ensuring access to good quality health care—whether physical or economical— has been a major challenge to planners and policymakers. This has been the case since the 1970s, when the Alma Ata declaration (1978) mandated “Health for All” by the year 2000 and further called for an integration of traditional health practitioners and traditional medical knowledge in public health policies to the more recent Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000), where three of the eight goals pertain to health. A quick transect through the different policies relevant to traditional knowledge, biodiversity and health gives us clues to the wide range of sectoral interests.

The rights of indigenous peoples to their customary practices were first recognized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention in 1957 . With the Earth Summit and the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, political recognition of the relevance of traditional knowledge and practices came about. Principle 22 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development  calls for a recognition of and a respect for the knowledge and practices of local and indigenous communities in environmental management towards achievement of sustainable development.

Agenda 21  further specifies a need for appropriate integration of traditional knowledge and experience in national health systems, and to conduct research in traditional knowledge related to preventive and curative health practices (Chapter 6 of Social & Economic Dimensions – Protecting & Promoting Human Health). Hence, over time, two areas where the contemporary relevance of traditional knowledge has been fairly well-acknowledged include the management of the environment and natural resources, and the delivery of health care. Increasingly, the vital role of traditional medicine and conservation of related resources and ecosystems in achieving better human health and well-being needs is being articulated in institutional reports and activities guiding policy setting.

Other key policy frameworks are as follows:

Other international organizations such as The Commonwealth Secretariat, European Union , World Bank  and World Trade Organization also have programmes on specific aspects in traditional medicine. Similarly, non-governmental bodies such as the Ford Foundation , World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the IUCN), TRAFFIC and several others have been assisting initiatives related to TRM (see: WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy: 2002–2005).