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Medicines in Motion: Tensions Between Transnational Capitalism and the Global Democratization of Medicines Derived from Traditional Asian Pharmacopoeias

Sun, June 26, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 109

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Proposal Application


Plant-derived medicines form the basis of traditional medical practices worldwide, and are essential elements of Asian pharmacopoeias. Simultaneously, these medicines are part of transnational trade. This multidisciplinary roundtable will explore the complex social, economic, legal, and health issues surrounding the global movement of plant-derived medicines. While this is truly a global phenomenon, Asian medical traditions are driving much of the movement of botanical medicines worldwide. The pharmacopoeias of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda (Indian, Nepali and Sri Lankan), Japanese Kampo, and others provide candidate plants and preparations for research and healing. Medicines derived from Asian traditions are being swept into nutraceutical and pharmaceutical pathways for use both within and far beyond Asian horizons. Likewise, plant medicines from traditions originating from other parts of the world are being introduced and incorporated into medical practices throughout Asia. This roundtable will consider the tensions between neoliberal practices stimulating the flow of medicines into a profit-motivated transnational capitalist nexus of research and promotion and the democratizing effects of increased circulation and choice of therapeutic agents and practices through the myriad interconnections fostered by globalization. Are these trends wholly exploitative and extractive, or does the increased global circulation of botanical medicines, and the accompanying research into their efficacy, provide hope in the form of efficacious and affordable therapies for populations who are economically or geographically disenfranchised from the products of ‘big pharma’? A panel comprising a medical anthropologist (JDB), a natural products researcher (HT), an international intellectual property expert (AM), and a medicinal plant conservationist and Kampo expert (EK) has been assembled. Through discussion of select case studies, we will examine the complexity surrounding transnational and transcultural understandings of efficacy, cultural appropriation of indigenous knowledge, and intellectual property. We will compare and contrast models of pharmaceutical/nutraceutical availability and acceptability in Asian and globalized settings for these therapies, and examine differentiated regulatory norms for medicines that derive from Asia-Pacific pharmacopeias but now access a global patient audience. Medicines from Asia are in motion: Is their migration a forerunner of hope for democratized medicine or harbinger for the excesses of pharmaceutical capitalism?

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