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Harmonisation of standards on African Traditional Medicine: A leap ahead in quality and trade

Members of the Technical Harmonisation Committee on African Traditional Medicine (THC 13) of the African Standardization Organisation (ARSO) have been convening in Mauritius from 2 to 6 March 2015.

Delegates attending the 4th Orsa meeting

Delegates attending the 4th Orsa meeting

The convening of this newly created ARSO committee, which has been supported by the ACP-EU TBT Programme, represents a leap ahead in efforts to establish quality standards in this important field. During the five days in Mauritius more than twenty delegates from all over Africa, including the Project Team Leader Dr Ameenah Gurib Fakim and the TBT expert Mr Beer Budoo, were engaged in intense discussions to reach agreement on Draft African Standards on traditional medicine.

The high relevance of this effort is underlined by World Health Organisation (WHO) reports which state that 80% of the world’s population depend on traditional medicine for their primary health care. In Sub-Saharan African countries, medicinal plants remain a key therapeutic recourse and can also constitute an important economic pillar provided that countries adopt the right standards. The present market value of herbal medicine is reported to be around 80 billion USD. The standards being harmonized by ARSO with the support of the ACP-EU TBT Programme seek to address the needs of African Member States in ensuring that their citizens are able to access quality, safe and efficacious traditional medicines which form the backbone of primary healthcare for the majority of their populations.

Adopting the appropriate standards will not only encourage trade, help develop good agriculture practice, promote environmental protection and create jobs but will make safe and quality herbal products available to the people at large. It is a fact that access to medication is a big issue in Africa. Herbal medicines have the advantage of reconciling health with traditions and the work of THC 13 aims to encourage the use of these products through a scientific underpinning.
The outcome of the deliberations in Mauritius will be incorporated into the Draft African Standards, which will then be open to public enquiry to gain wider publicity, afford the public an opportunity to contribute relevant ideas and build continental consensus.

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