Rwanda to patent traditional medicines and indigenous remedies

Saturday October 10 2015

A variety of organic and food supplements on display at Amazon Nutrition and  Complimentary Therapy. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

A variety of organic and food supplements on display at Amazon Nutrition and  Complimentary Therapy. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Moses K Gahigi, RT Special Correspondent

Rwandan traditional medicine and other indigenous healing technologies, which have been at the forefront of fighting infections and diseases for centuries, will now be patented and preserved.

The move, intended to protect and grow local inventors, artists and researchers, will be driven by a joint initiative between the government and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). It is aimed at harnessing support for the growth of indigenous technologies through protection and research.

Despite centuries of healing people from a wide range of illnesses, even where some Western medicines have failed, traditional medicines have had little recognition and have often been subjected to stereotyped ridicule as archaic.

Although the law on intellectual property has been in place since 2009, few players in the arts and technology industries knew about it or what it entails, and the absence of a targeted project to drive innovation, protection of arts, science and technology inventions has left the industry stunted.

Sam Habimana runs a complementary medicine centre, called Amazon Nutrition and Complementary Therapy, which offers preventive and relief remedies in form of reflex stimulation (reflexology) and herbal medicine for a wide range of ailments.

His clients often give him glowing appreciation about how the treatment package has incredibly healed them, and within an unexpected time. His clientele has been growing since one satisfied customer tells another about the centre.

Not protected

However, Mr Habimana is worried that his company’s inventions are not protected through patents, which makes it easy for someone else to replicate it without him gaining from it.

“We have invented a number of herbal remedies, which are working for people,” said Mr Habimana. “Our worry has been somebody else stealing our ideas.

“The fact that the government is coming out to protect us is the best news I’ve heard this month.”

Inventions under their belt include an Aloe Vera gel, which is a skin remedy, and another Aloe Vera product that helps in digestive disorders and other parasitic infections such as amoeba and constipation.

“We also have a product, which is a eucalyptus concentrate; it has helped many people with respiratory problems, persistent cough, headaches, and it restores appetite...,” said Mr Habimana.

“It’s super effective, and I am happy that we shall now be able to patent it to be truly ours.”

Although some of these indigenous technologies have gained some traction in recent years, they have received little support in terms of research from the national or local governments, which has affected their growth and innovation.

The efforts to protect these local inventors will enable them to establish their footprint in the global market place and maintain a competitive advantage, officials say.

“We have generational healers; these need to be sensitised and supported,” said Dr Marie Christine Gasingirwa, the director-general of science, research and innovation at the Ministry of Education.

She added: “There is a lot of ground for research, we have a lot of plants with medicinal properties, it’s timely that these medicinal inventions are patented.”

Dr Gasingirwa said local inventors need to really be harnessed and supported, noting that that is why the government will soon launch the biodiversity centre of excellence, which will benefit the pharmaceutical industry.

“A lot of knowledge gets lost, there is need to bridge the old with the new, protecting and nurturing our science and technology will definitely pay off,” she said.

According to the intellectual property law, the patent owner shall be entitled to undertake court proceedings against any person who infringes the patent by importing, offering for sale, selling and using the product without his agreement.

And where more than one person own the same patent, each of those persons may undertake separate proceedings for infringement of the patent against any person using the patented invention without the agreement of all the owners.

The law has a mission to contribute to the promotion of technological innovation, transfer and dissemination of technology, to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge, in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare of population.