Giving traditional medicine its rightful place in Indian Ocean islands


Delegates in one of the workshop’s sessions

The gathering, organised by the United Nations’ Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) represented by Serena  Heckler of the Small Islands and Indigenous section, brought together traditional herbalists from Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, the Comoros and the Maldives.

A representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Cornelia Atsyor, was also present.

The Seychelles delegation was made up of Rachel Spiro of the Association of Promoters of Complimentary Health in Seychelles (Apochis), herbalists Jamie Dogley, Jean-Joseph Madeleine and Cindy Onezime. 

The workshop was launched by Education Minister MacSuzy Mondon, as president of the Seychelles national commission for Unesco.
She said indigenous knowledge, of which traditional medicine is an important part, is an integral part of any nation’s heritage.

“Traditional medicine has formed the basis of local health care for centuries,” she said.
She added that in the case of Seychelles – and this is also true of certain other Indian Ocean islands – we have benefitted from heritage from almost every continent.  These are mainly Africa, Europe and Asia, notably India and China.

Ms Mondon said this has provided us with a huge tapestry of practices and traditional knowledge borrowed from these parts of the world, which have become interwoven and evolved into our very own approach.

She noted that Seychelles possesses a rich biological diversity and the government as well as the Unesco national commission strongly support efforts aimed at bio-conservation, science and education for sustainable development.

She added that traditional medicine without doubt largely depends on the tapping of this rich biodiversity as well as knowledge of its properties and uses. This knowledge has been transmitted from one generation to the next and must be protected for our children and grand children.

The minister said that in the national curriculum, the Ministry of Education has taken steps for teaching herbal values of local plants through environmental education in all subjects which touch the lives of pupils.

She said that in Seychelles, some measures have already been taken to build a formal link between the community of traditional practitioners and other alternative health providers through the establishment of the Complementary Health Care Services Board, which sits within the Ministry of Health as well as the Apochis.

Ms Mondon also applauded Unesco’s efforts to work with communities, especially in small island developing states to strengthen the support framework for traditional knowledge holders and to help in the process of preserving this precious heritage for future generations.

She added that Unesco is also helping small islands to find ways to face the many threats they face today, notably over-exploitation, deforestation, climate change and bio-piracy.

Ms Heckler said a first such gathering was held in Mauritius in 2011 on bio-processing, policy of traditional medicine and practice.

She said that, while it is very enriching for the herbalists of different islands to be speaking to each other, the present workshop seeks to establish networks in Seychelles and Madagascar.

The traditional medicinal practitioners, she said, are being encouraged to coordinate with government to protect their rights and interests, while also establishing standards of good practice.

Jay Mootoosamy of Port Louis market in Mauritius told Nation he runs the Tisane Mootoosamy started by his great-grandfather and handed down from father to son. He said the herbal shop sells a mixture of several herb extracts for most ailments. Patients are also given separate advice on the diet to accompany the herbs.

According to him, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension, insomnia, stress and depression can be treated with herbal medicine, adding the cure is not immediate, but rather long-term.

Mr Mootoosamy said he also runs an herbal store in Rose-Hill, while most herbalists operate from home.

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