Challenges Facing Traditional Medicine: Towards New Approaches for Protecting and Promoting Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of Practitioners in South Africa

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Philip F. Iya


Western health care systems are foreign to the African indigenous health care systems. This applies to intellectual property issues related to traditional knowledge. Therefore, the need has arisen to undertake a study on the challenges and prospects of the co-existence, or otherwise, of the two regimes and their respective health care systems of the contemporary era in South Africa and Africa so as to plot the way forward for the future. This research, within the broad conference theme of “research and development in indigenous knowledge-based health care systems”, therefore, aims specifically at investigating and addressing the challenges and prospects facing the current holders and practitioners of traditional medicine in South Africa. In the process, issues of intellectual property rights will be identified; its most suitable regime for practitioners of contemporary traditional medicine will be established; the new Bill on the protection, promotion and management of indigenous knowledge systems, in so far as it impacts on traditional health care systems will be analysed; the involvement of the issues of informal intellectual property regime (consisting of customary/traditional rules, rights and obligations) which are not written down but have achieved legitimacy and enforceability through the consensus of communities, monitored and enforced by traditional leaders of the respective communities, will be recommended for more research. This is a research and development project in indigenous knowledge-based health care systems which is still in progress.  To achieve the above, review of available documents, which has already started in preparation for empirical research, will constitute the initial method of investigation. This will be followed by an Afrocentric approach to the methodologies required to interrogate, in greater details, the indigenous knowledge-based health care systems among communities in South Africa so as to establish the concerned aspects of intellectual property issues within that system.

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