Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010

Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010
Finalist for society, politics, history blogs



Tuesday, May 28, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

How far have developing countries addressed the Disabled Persons problems? Expectedly, the more prosperous ‘tiger’ and ‘dragon’ economies, followed by the ‘emerging markets’, have appreciably addressed the problem in one way or another.

Differential access to services by marginal sectors do vary across the diverse developing countries. Those countries emerging from the dark years of Stalinism, notably the Central Asian societies, do lag behind in the ‘affirmative action’ policies for disabled persons for instance.

In the Philippines, it took the audacity of one known journalist to establish a party list group that will represent the Disabled Persons, as a legistative way of fast-tracking fiats that benefit the sector. This journalist, Art Borjal, is himself a DP, being a paraplegic, and the laws he initiated in Congress during his victorious incumbency as party list legislator, still stand till these days as precedent-setting innovations.

Below is an interesting human interest story about the DPs of Turkmenistan. Once a colony of imperial Russia, Turkmenistan was forcibly integrated into the Soviet Union by the Bolsheviks. It gained its independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

[Manila, 25 May 2013]

Turkmenistan: Helping people with disabilities move forward

Yuriy Kulik might have remained unemployed, relegated to the fringes of society in Turkmenistan. After losing his sight as a teenager, he could not find a job that would accommodate his disability.
But in 2005, Kulik took part in an intensive course that taught him how to adapt without his sight. It taught him how to read and write in braille, and gave him the skills to become a professional masseur.


  • From 2005 to 2009, the programme trained more than 220 visually- and hearing-impaired individuals.
  • 80 percent of graduates of the Deaf and Blind Society of Turkmenistan’s work-training programme have found jobs.
  • Salaries for garment-factory workers tripled after training.
  • Between 2009 and 2012, 10 graduates of the rehabilitation programme have helped retrain approximately 50 visually impaired individuals in all five provinces of Turkmenistan.
“I am happy that I can help people,” says Kulik, adding that the course helped him regain his confidence.
The course he took, offered by the Deaf and Blind Society of Turkmenistan (DBS) with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, teaches people with disabilities basic literacy and how to function outdoors. But it also teaches work skills, such as carpentry and sewing (for the hearing impaired) in addition to massage (for the visually impaired).
From 2005 to 2009, the programme helped give more than 220 visually- and hearing-impaired individuals a new start in life. About 80 percent of graduates got jobs: some people from the provinces set up their own private businesses at home, while others work for DBS.
UNDP has helped DBS train sign-language interpreters to support DBS’ efforts in training the hearing impaired, including children. It bought minibuses, as well as computer equipment to produce audio books.
The Society has a number of enterprises—a sewing workshop, a publishing house, as well as facilities producing locks, cartons and other items – where many graduates of the programme work.
Currently, its garment enterprise in the city of Turkmenbashi is working at full capacity, thanks to orders for mattresses, bed linen and work uniforms from local oil refineries. The garment workshop’s quarterly volume of production has increased to US $32,000, resulting in salary increases for its visually and hearing-impaired workers (from $60 to $180 per month).
The Society relies in part on profits from its enterprises to support its operations. But because the profits don’t cover its operating expenses, the initiative has received $685,000 in funding from the European Union, UNDP and the Asian Blind Union.
Following a large-scale awareness-raising campaign on the local and national level, the project engaged local administrations in a dialogue on the needs and concerns of people with disabilities. The next step for the successful program will be scaling it up to the national level.

Monday, May 20, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

A gladdening news from Africa concerns the 3ADI or African Agrigusiness and Agro-industry Development Initiative. The African Union, FAO and UNIDO are collaborating together to jettison the 3ADI.

Arranging food security measures along the value chain has been a very challenging task for Africa as a whole. Poverty and famine stoke the continent or vast parts of it, added to other disasters of geological and atmospheric disturbances.

Such a seemingly bleak situation for food insecurity, poverty, and ecological disharmonics can still be reversed to end vicious cycles of deaths and deplorable living conditions. With the collaborating institutions at the helm of 3ADI, the clout for putting a productive agenda into practice is greatly enhanced.

Below is a brief report on the 3ADI from the UNIDO.

The African Agribusiness and Agro-industry Development Initiative (3ADI)

The goal of the 3ADI is to have an agriculture sector in Africa which consists of highly productive and profitable agricultural value chains.

To accelerate the development of the agribusiness and agro-industries sectors in Africa, 3ADI supports an investment programme that will significantly increase the proportion of agricultural produce in Africa that is transformed into differentiated high-value products.

The initiative highlights the critical role of agribusinesses in the process of economic development, food security and sustainable reduction of poverty and hunger especially for the world’s poorest countries.

It also defines priority areas where support is needed to foster sustained poverty reduction through human capital development, highly productive and profitable agro-value chains and greater agribusiness participation in domestic and international markets.

The 3ADI stems from the Abuja Declaration, passed at the end of the Abuja Conference, organized by the African Union Council (AUC) on March 2011. The declaration calls upon UNIDO, in cooperation with FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) to join efforts in a well coordinated way, in order to share knowledge and harmonize programmes in ways that capture synergies, avoid fragmented efforts, and enhance developmental impacts.

Friday, May 17, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Disaster risk has been receiving intensive attention among various stakeholders across the planet. It looks like Asia’s own stakeholders have been at the forefront of disaster risk management, from risk assessment through actual interventions as crisis response measures.

Disaster mitigation may work with certain degrees of certainty, which policy makers and development institutions should buttress with greater efforts. Region per region assessments of geohazards and atmospheric disturbances in any one country should be the norm, with attendant policy and executory measures strictly implemented.

The last ten (10) years have seen horrific disasters in the whole of Asia, disasters that are close to continental catastrophe when integrated to form a complex reality matrix. To say the least, people’s reactions to them have been markedly traumatic, so that whenever they would receive news of powerful storms of tsunami nearby they cower in fear.

Are we indeed close to a ‘continental catastrophe’ for Asia, in case that the term may make sense at all? Below is a summary report from the Asian Development Bank about the disaster risk situation in Asia.

[Manila, 15 May 2013]

Disaster Risk Management in Asia by the Numbers

24 April 2013

Research shows Asia and the Pacific is more vulnerable to natural hazards than other parts of the world. The growing frequency of disasters, such as devastating floods or earthquakes, could derail the region's economic growth and poverty reduction efforts unless measures are put in place to reduce disaster risk and improve preparedness.

1.1 deaths per 1,000 square kilometers: From 1971 to 2010, the average annual death rate from natural hazards in Asia and the Pacific was double the global average of 0.5.
Source: ADB publication Investing in Resilience: Ensuring a Disaster-Resistant Future

50%: Asia accounts for half of the world's estimated economic cost of disasters over the past 20 years.
Source: Independent Evaluation report Special Evaluation Study on ADB's Response to Natural Disasters and Disaster Risks

More than $19 billion: The losses that the region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is estimated to incur from disasters every 100 years on average.
Source: A presentation during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Regional Expert Meeting on Loss and Damage in 2012, cited in an Independent Evaluation report Special Evaluation Study on ADB's Response to Natural Disasters and Disaster Risks

Less than 5%: Disaster losses in developing Asia that are insured compared with 40% in developed countries.
Source: ADB news Risk Financing Is Key to Building Resilience Against Disasters - Study

$7.3 million: Annual savings in sea-dike maintenance from the investment of $1.1 million in the rehabilitation of 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Viet Nam.
Source: International Institute for Environment and Development paper, cited in an Independent Evaluation document, Making Infrastructure Disaster-Resilient

2009: The year ASEAN adopted the Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, the world's first legally binding agreement on disaster risk management. In the same year, ADB established the Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund, which provides emergency relief to member countries.
Source: ADB publication Investing in Resilience: Ensuring a Disaster-Resistant Future, ADB's work to reduce disaster risk

$17.60 billion: The amount of funding that ADB approved in the past 25 years for disaster risk management projects, emergency assistance, post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction, and disaster risk reduction activities.
Source:  ADB fast facts Investing in Resilience - Ensuring a Disaster-Resistant Future

3-year pilot project: ADB has approved a pilot disaster response facility to provide timely and effective assistance to countries eligible for concessional Asian Development Fund (ADF) financing, during the ADF XI period, 2013-2016.
Source: ADB policy paper Piloting a Disaster Response Facility

Sunday, May 12, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Traditional medicine or TM is surely gaining grounds across the planet. The search for alternative panacea to treat diverse ailments is an ongoing challenge, that search reinforced by the dead end situation of allopathy or Western medicine which is chemical or drug-based in problem-solving approach.

TM could be good or bad, depending on the perspective where you’re coming from. As a social scientist and development practitioner, I am among those who strongly supported holistic medical paradigms and practices in my country. I still resort to pranic healing which I apply to selected clients as distance healing tool.

While there is gargantuan value for TM as a whole, a trend bordering a cult has arisen from the newfound esteem of holistic medicine. A cult of ‘healerism’ is on the rise, which rides astride the warped paradigm of New Age that has become a spiritual dogma of the present.

It is normal to observe psychotics, neurotics, and psychopaths magnetized to healers of various kinds whom they would endow with messiah-like esteem. While I do support TM as a science and practice, I distance myself from the cultists of healerism who, incidentally, possess low intellect besides being psychologically imbalanced.

Below is a report on integrating modern and TM culled from the

[Manila, 11 May 2013]

Integrating modern and traditional medicine: Facts and figures

Priya Shetty
30 June 2010 | EN | ES | FR | 中文
Traditional medicine (TM) is due a revival. For millennia, people around the world have healed the sick with herbal or animal-derived remedies, handed down through generations.
In Africa and Asia, 80 per cent of the population still uses traditional remedies rather than modern medicine for primary healthcare.
And in developed nations, TM is rapidly gaining appeal. Estimates suggest up to 80 per cent of the population has tried a therapy such as acupuncture or homeopathy. And a survey conducted earlier this year found that 74 per cent of US medical students believe that Western medicine would benefit by integrating traditional or alternative therapies and practices. [1]
The industry is worth big money. In 2005, traditional medicines worth US$14 billion were sold in China. And in 2007, Brazil saw revenues of US$160 million from traditional therapies — part of a global market of more than US$60 billion. [2, 3]
Desperately seeking drugs
The truth is that modern medicine is desperately short of new treatments. It takes years for a new drug to get through the research and development pipeline to manufacture and the cost is enormous.
And growing drug resistance, in part caused by the misuse of medications, has rendered several antibiotics and other life-saving drugs useless.
Both these trends mean that scientists and pharmaceutical companies are urgently looking for new drug sources and are increasingly turning their eyes to traditional medicine.
A few major triumphs have stoked interest in traditional medicine as a source for highly successful and lucrative drugs. The best known of these is artemisinin used to treat malaria (see Box 1).
Artemisinin, which is extracted from Artemisia annua or Chinese sweet wormwood, is the basis for the most effective malaria drugs the world has ever seen.
Western researchers first became aware of the compound in the 1980s, though it had long been used in China to treat malaria.
But it wasn't until 2004 that the WHO endorsed its use worldwide. Much of this delay was because of the skepticism about the drug, and different research groups spent years validating the claims of Chinese traditional healers.
Artemisinin is proving useful against other diseases too and has been shown to have great potential in treating cancers and schistosomiasis.
But the wonder drug is already showing signs of fallibility. Reports from South-East Asia say that in some people, the malaria parasite has become resistant to artemisinin treatment.
Across the globe, researchers, policymakers, pharmaceutical companies and traditional healers are joining forces to bring TM into the 21st century.
In some ways, it is already here. Nearly a quarter of all modern medicines are derived from natural products, many of which were first used in traditional remedies (see Table 1).
What it is for
Derived from
Originally used in
Produced by the Chinese herb Qinghao or sweet wormwood
Traditional Chinese medicine for chills and fevers
Asthma prophylaxis
Synthetic compound based on khellin, active ingredient of the khella plant
Traditional Middle Eastern remedies for asthma. Khellin has also traditionally been used in Egypt to treat kidney stones
Synthesized from podophyllotoxin, produced by the mandrake plant
Various remedies in Chinese, Japanese and Eastern folk medicine
Salivary glands in leeches, now produced by genetic engineering
Traditional remedies across the globe, from Shui Zhi medicine in China to 18th and 19th century medicine in Europe
To lower cholesterol
Foods such as oyster mushrooms and red yeast rice.
Used to synthesize other compounds such as mevastatin and pravastatin
Mushrooms are used to treat a wide range of illnesses in traditional medicine in China, Japan, Eastern Europe and Russia
Unripe poppy seeds
Traditional Arab, Chinese, European, Indian and North African medicines as pain relief and to treat range of illnesses including diarrhea, coughs and asthma
Bark of the cinchona tree
Traditional remedies to treat fevers and shivers in South America
Vinca alkaloids
(vincristine, vinblastine)
Rosy periwinkle
Various folk remedies across the world, including use as an anti-diabetic in Jamaica, to treat wasp stings in Indian traditional medicine, as eyewash in Cuba, as love potion in medieval Europe
Table 1: Selected modern drugs that come from traditional medicine [4]
Modernising tradition
But making traditional medicine truly mainstream — incorporating its knowledge into modern healthcare and ensuring it meets modern safety and efficacy standards — is no easy task and is far from complete.
And there is rising concern among conservationists that a growing traditional medicine market threatens biodiversity through overharvesting of medicinal plants or increased use of body parts from endangered animals, such as tigers, rhinos and elephants.
Beyond the sustainability of natural resources, marrying traditional and modern medicine faces numerous challenges that stem from key differences in how each is practiced, evaluated and managed (see Table 2).

Traditional medicine
Modern medicine
Knowledge protection
Open access
Closed, patent-protected
Ad hoc during consultation with the patient
Pre-determined, and once tested in clinical trials cannot be changed unless re-tested
Virtually none, though some countries are trying to introduce rules and standardisation
Extremely tight, to the point that bringing drugs to market now costs billions of dollars
No formal testing as knowledge of the effectiveness is handed down through generations
Rigorous trials that happen in different phases, first testing for safety, then efficacy
Unfixed: the amount of medicine given might be roughly similar, but the active ingredient (which is what dosage really is) can vary hugely
Fixed doses that tend to vary only slightly with age or weight, or disease severity
Lengthy, and the patient is asked about a wider range of questions than just their symptoms
Consultations in both primary and secondary care tend to be brief and focused, especially as national health systems come under strain
Both systems of medicine require lengthy training over many years but with traditional medicine, knowledge is often passed one-to-one through families, and practitioners are often born into a family of healers
Often vocational: health professionals go through formal training in schools and universities
Table 2: Key differences between traditional and modern medicine
Protection and piracy
One of the most striking differences between traditional and modern medicines is the legal protection given to knowledge.Traditional practitioners have historically shared their knowledge and experience freely — defining 'open-access' before the term even existed. Modern medicine, on the other hand, has stringent intellectual property laws and a highly evolved patenting system used to protect knowledge about drugs or medical techniques.
As Western researchers realise the wealth of knowledge stored in traditional medicine systems, and the need for new drugs becomes more urgent, many scientists have begun searching indigenous sources for new drugs: a term dubbed 'bioprospecting' (see Bioprospecting).
In some cases, researchers have sought patent protection for medicinal compounds that had already been used for centuries to treat disease. An example is the 1995 patent on an anti-fungal neem derivative commonly used in Indian traditional remedies. The European Patent Office (EPO) granted a patent to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the multinational WR Grace and Company.
The Indian government convinced the EPO to revoke the patent on the basis of prior use, but it took five years and millions of dollars.
This plundering of freely available indigenous resources has been termed 'biopiracy' and is a strong example of the challenges facing efforts to take traditional medicine mainstream.
Some regions have tried to tackle the problem by enacting laws to protect indigenous knowledge. For example, Cusco, in Peru, last year outlawed the exploitation of native species for commercial gain, including patenting genes or other resources the trees contain (see Peruvian region outlaws biopiracy).
India's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) takes a more pragmatic approach to bridging the divide. In 2001, it launched a traditional knowledge digital library (TKDL). From last year, the EPO has been able to consult the 24 million page, multilingual database on traditional remedies and medicinal plants before granting patents (see BioMed Analysis: Keep traditional knowledge open but safe).
Many other countries have, or are considering establishing, similar databases to protect their local resources, including China, Ghana, Malaysia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand and some nations in the Middle East.
Regulating remedies
Beyond differences in indigenous and Western knowledge systems, efforts to make traditional medicines mainstream also have to cope with significant differences in regulation.
Every country has a national drug authority of sorts, responsible for administering and managing modern medicines and setting drug policies.
The problem with traditional medicine is that it often means different things to different people. A single medicinal plant may be classified as a food, a dietary supplement or a herbal medicine, depending on where you are.
A 2005 survey of WHO member states found that 84–90 countries (around 60 per cent) had no national policy, laws or regulations for traditional medicine (although more than half of these proposed developing them) [5]. These are often the countries where traditional remedies are used the most (see Figure 1).
And those countries with TM legislation take diverse approaches to licensing, dispensing, manufacturing and trading traditional remedies.
The lack of regulation means there are just as many fake remedies and false practitioners as there are genuine treatments. And that can have fatal results. For example, last year, two people died and nine were hospitalised after taking fake anti-diabetic traditional medicine, used to lower blood sugar, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. [6]
For most of the past decade, the WHO has been working to develop international guidelines and technical standards to help countries formulate policy and regulations to control traditional medicines.
Testing times
If regulation of traditional and Western medicines varies, so too do methods for evaluating and testing them.
Modern drugs go through a rigorous series of laboratory tests and clinical trials before coming to market. Modern medicine has developed powerful methods for proving effectiveness, testing for safety and standardising good manufacturing practices.
In contrast, few scientific tests are done to evaluate traditional medicine products and practices. Quality tests and production standards tend to be less rigorous or controlled and in many cases, practitioners may not be certified or licensed.
Of course, some researchers believe that putting a drug that has been tried and tested in thousands of people for decades or centuries through the same hoops as a brand new chemical is not appropriate.
But many agree that before a traditional medicine can be imported into a conventional framework of pharmaceuticals, it will require reassessment.
In some cases, this means adapting standard methods to cope with ethical issues that do not arise with conventional drug development. US researchers Jon Tilburt and Ted Kaptchuk have, for example, suggested that clinical trials of traditional medicines must follow different rules for research ethics (see Box 2). [7]
Box 2: Rules of research ethics for clinical trials of traditional medicines*
1. Justifiable social need for the research
The rationale for testing a traditional medicine in a clinical trial cannot simply be that it already exists as a treatment. There must be both a social need and some preliminary evidence that the medicine will not negatively counteract other medicines used to treat the same disease. Different stakeholders will define social need in different ways — for example, a government may want to prevent any other party from commercialising the treatment and health campaigners may want the clinical trial to try to produce better drugs.
2. Appropriate definitions of inclusion and exclusion criteria, and outcome measures
Concepts of health and sickness differ between modern and traditional medicine. For example, Western researchers would probably categorise heart failure in patients according to the New York Heart Association classification. But practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) would see heart failure as a heart yang chi deficiency or a kidney yang deficiency, categorising patients based on pulse or tongue examination. Researchers testing a herbal remedy for heart failure would need to take both biomedical and TCM criteria into account for the results to be valid from both perspectives.
3. Innovative protocol design
Drugs brought to market by putting traditional medicines through clinical trials must be rigorously tested but researchers will need to think carefully about how best to design their protocol. Standard methodologies may not be appropriate for a medicine that contains a mixture of active ingredients or in treatments that vary between practitioners. But adaptations of standard protocols could accommodate many of these issues. For example, cluster randomised controlled trials could be rigorous while allowing for practitioner variability.
4. Establishing standards for safety and evidence
The familiarity of traditional medicines, and their widespread use, could bias some researchers towards a good safety profile. Care is needed early on to determine safety requirements.
*Derived from an ethical analysis by Jon Tilburt and Ted Kaptchuk. [7]
Inherently variable
Ethical issues aside, it can be extremely difficult to apply modern methods — developed to test standardised drugs — to the inherently diverse range of products that are traditional medicines.
Many traditional medicines are made by crushing the leaves or bark of plants and trees, and the resulting mixture can contain hundreds of potentially active molecules. Identifying these is hard enough — testing each one for safety and effectiveness is practically impossible.
And unlike many modern pharmaceuticals, the quality of source material for traditional medicines varies greatly, even within individual countries. This is true both because of differences in the genetic material used as well as other variable factors such as environmental conditions, harvesting, transport and storage.
Dosage is similarly varied. Modern medicine demands standard dosages that tend to vary only with bodyweight or severity of disease. Traditional healers are more likely to give their patients a unique dosage or combination of medicines that is concocted only during the consultation and based on the patient's symptoms.  
Poor evaluation results may therefore be the result of any number of factors — from the mistaken use of the wrong species of plant to contamination with toxic substances during storage to overdosage. They do not necessarily indicate that the medicine is an inappropriate candidate for modern drug development. 
Culture clash
Similarly, if a traditional medicine is deemed clinically ineffective by modern standards, it doesn't mean it cannot work as a therapy. Homeopathy, for example, seems to work despite hundreds of clinical trials suggesting that it has no biological effect. Many scientists believe this is a placebo effect generated because homeopathy practitioners spend far longer listening to what their patient has to say than do conventional doctors. [8]
But while the placebo effect can certainly be beneficial, many would consider it unethical to prescribe clinically ineffective treatment in order to induce this benefit.
Then there is the issue of combining traditional medicines and modern drugs. The belief system that accompanies traditional medicine can sometimes interfere with modern treatments. In 2009, Kumanan Wilson, of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and colleagues reviewed barriers to malaria treatment in Africa in the journal BMC International Health and Human Rights. [9]
In Africa alone, malaria is estimated to kill one million people, more than 90 per cent of whom are children under five. Wilson's team found that a reliance on traditional medicines and linked cultural beliefs — such as the idea that a child with convulsions is possessed or haunted by spirits and would die if taken to hospital — was a major barrier to effective treatment for malaria.
In many of the studies the team reviewed, respondents said that traditional therapies such as herbal remedies were used as a first-line treatment before modern drugs.
New techniques for old treatments
New scientific techniques are also being applied to traditional medicine in the search for modern drugs. These innovative approaches are developing at breakneck speed (see Table 3).
Reverse pharmacology
Researchers start with the end product, a clinically useful compound for example, and work backwards to find out what it contains and how it functions. This can offer clues about how particular medicines work, and where they act in the body.
High-throughput screening
This advanced screening relies on high-speed data processing and sensitive detectors to conduct millions of biochemical, genetic or pharmacological tests in a few minutes. The process can quickly identify active compounds that affect particular biological pathways.
The systematic study of how specific ethnic groups use medicinal plants.
Systems biology
This holistic approach aims to understanding the way different chemicals and metabolic processes interact within the body. Since traditional medicines often have numerous active ingredients, it could be used to measure the whole body's response to the mixture of compounds.
Table 3: How to create modern drugs from traditional compounds [10]
In India, the CSIR has teamed up with several public and private partners to conduct clinical trials on herbal products generated through reverse pharmacology. It says this has resulted in wider acceptance of Ayurvedic traditional medicines and promises cheaper, faster and more effective drugs. [10]
And in Africa, at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, scientists at the institute's Centre for Traditional Medicine and Drug Research are testing thousands of plants in the hope of finding a new antimalarial (see Turning plants into pills in Kenya). The team has had a handful of promising leads, though none has yet been effective enough to pursue as a candidate drug.
Gaining ground
Integrating traditional medicine into modern healthcare is certainly being taken seriously by some of the biggest research bodies worldwide. In 2007, 62 countries had national institutes for traditional medicine — up from 12 in 1970. [11]
The US National Institutes of Health, for example, houses an organisation called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which this year has a budget of US$128.8 million.
NCCAM funds research into how acupuncture, herbal supplements, meditation, or osteopathy can help treat conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders.
Developing countries with ancient histories of traditional medicine are also hunting for ways to modernise their own medical heritage. In China, modern and traditional medicine are practiced alongside each other at every level of the healthcare system. The government gives equal weight to developing both and China has a large and active research community on 'integrative medicine'.
In Latin America too, several countries are working to provide modern and traditional health care side-by-side (see Modernising traditional medicine must work for locals).
African governments, including those of Ghana and Nigeria, are rolling out educational campaigns and launching anti-counterfeiting technologies to better monitor drug procurement. And initiatives such as the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics and Innovation are encouraging the mining of traditional medicine.
So traditional medicine has much to offer global health, especially as new drugs have never been more urgently needed. If both developed and developing countries joined research capacities in equitable collaborations, new scientific techniques could spark a revival in global health research and development.


[1] Abbott, R. B. et al. Medical student attitudes toward complementary, alternative and integrative medicine Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2010)
[2] WHO factsheet on traditional medicine. WHO (2008)
[3] WHO Country Cooperation Strategy 2006–2011, India: Supplement on traditional medicine WHO Country Office for India, New Delhi (2007)
[4] Ghalib, H. The hunt for the next Artemisinin TDR News (2007)
[5] National policy on traditional medicine and regulation of herbal medicines: report of a global WHO survey WHO (2005)
[6]Deadly counterfeit diabetes drug found outside China's Xinjiang Xinhua News (2009)
[7] Tilburt, J.C. and Kaptchuk, T.J. Herbal medicine research and global health: an ethical analysis Bulletin of the World Health Organization 86 577–656 (2008).
[8] Ernst, E. Homeopathy: what does the "best" evidence tell us? The Medical Journal of Australia 192 458–60 (2010).
[9] Maslove, D.M. et al. Barriers to the effective treatment and prevention of malaria in Africa: A systematic review of qualitative studies BMC International Health and Human Rights 9 26 (2009)
[10] Patwardhan, B. Drug discovery and development: Traditional medcine and ethnopharmacology perspectives SciTopics (2009)
[11] Potential of traditional medicine should be fostered, Economic and Social Council President tells panel on attaining Millennium Development Goals in public health. UN Economic and Social Council (2009)

Thursday, May 09, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The link between business and science R&D has been a weakly established one across many countries. This holds true for my own country, Philippines, which is dubbed as a rising economic star in Asia and the world.

Development stakeholders, notably planners and development managers, have for sure been busy addressing the science-enterprise gap. Having been involved in grassroots development since the early 80s, I know for a fact that change agents have done much to link S&T on one hand and community-based grassroots enterprises on the other hand as technology end-users.

I recall how an agency, the Technology Resource Center (renamed later as Technology Livelihood Resource Center), was created to serve as catalytic agency that addresses such a gap. The TRC consolidated state-of-the-art studies coming from government research agencies, which the agency then offered to end-users such as the grassroots clientele of the (defunct) Ministry of Human Settlements.

Various developing countries have their unique experiences to share regarding the matter. For this particular reflection, let us review the Tanzania experience which is worth emulating in the African continent.

[Manila, 07 May 2013]

Using innovation to assist Tanzania's craft firms

George Achia
18 April 2013 | EN
In Mwenge, a district in northern Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there is a market where ebony sculptures, wood carvings and other craftworks are sold.

The market is a major tourist attraction in the city.

On stall number 25 stands a huge wood carving of people holding one another.

This piece was made by Deo Kafwa, a veteran woodcarver who has been in the trade for more than twenty years.

·                       Clusters of related firms are sharing US$19,000 to help them use science to expand
·                       Businesses can benefit from academic and government links
·                       Wood-using firms are urged to work with scientists to find the best timber to use
The hardwood carving illustrates Tanzania's policy of 'Ujamaa na kujitegemea' — or socialism and self-reliance — introduced by the country's first president, Julius Nyerere.

It is so skillfully crafted that potential buyers stand admiring the work for a long time.

One German tourist appears fascinated with the artwork. The tourist finally buys the carving for US$5,000. This is how much such works can cost, depending on their style, design and creator.

Business backing
This wood-carving market benefitted when the government gave four groups of firms a start-up fund of 32 million Tanzanian shillings (around US$19,000) through the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), to enable them to expand their business initiatives using science and technology.
As well as the woodworking cluster, the funding went to an ICT (information communication technology) cluster, a furniture-making cluster and a handloom cluster.

Each cluster is made up of firms within the same geographical area, and was set up with the aim of establishing links between them to improve their collective competitiveness.

According to Hassan Mshinda, the director-general of COSTECH, the initiative is a way of getting people in the clusters to think about how they can increase their performance using research and the latest technology.
"Science, technology and innovation are key for any private sector to have competitiveness," he tells SciDev.Net.

"Today we talk about IKEA — the Swedish company that designs and sells furniture — as one of the best suppliers of furniture in the world. This is because it knows which timber is good for which product, treatment and design, and the best technology to use [in furniture construction]."

Mshinda adds that clusters provide an excellent environment for innovation to thrive through interaction and learning.

For Tanzania to fast-track its economic growth, he says, already established clusters should be helped to access and benefit from science, technology and innovation.

"As a body charged with advising the government on all matters that relate to science, research and development, we want to see science playing a bigger role in socioeconomic development," says Mshinda.

Promoting science

The woodcarving cluster plans to use the money in three ways: to pay designers to come up with new products to sell; to set up a revolving fund offering loans than are repaid and then loaned again to finance the cluster's operation; and to provide loans to members to pay for their professional development at both an individual and group level.

"Cluster members are firms, and in order to build their competitiveness, we facilitate and promote the use of science, technology and innovation," explains Mshinda, adding that the money given to the clusters is intended to enable them to access and adopt new technologies.

For example, to encourage members to be more innovative, the woodcarving cluster is to hold a four-day trade fair, supported through the revolving fund, that will involve key stakeholders, including academics, private sector representatives not engaged in wood carving, and government representatives.

During the fair, there will be a competition with an award for the most innovative product.

"The competitiveness of the wood cluster members is not only about products but also the quality, branding and so on," says Kafwa, who as well as being a carver is the coordinator of the wood carving cluster. "We in the wood cluster need to produce products that will compete in the global market with carvings from other countries, like Kenya."

According to Kafwa, the lack of specialised training centres and art schools to help carvers enhance their skills is a major challenge.

He says that, although the government "has stepped in late" to provide support, he welcomes its backing.

Building links

Before receiving funding from COSTECH, the members of each cluster were trained by the commission on how to develop a business plan setting out how they intend to improve their competitiveness in global markets through innovation.

Cluster initiatives work through facilitators selected by cluster members. Kafwa says that all cluster facilitators are trained to help their initiatives develop.

"In most cases, the leadership involves academia, the private sector and government representatives. These people are the bridge to cluster members. For example, if there is an issue that needs government intervention, then the leader from government will link it up," he explains.

Omar Bakari, the coordinator of COSTECH's cluster development programme, tells SciDev.Net that many governments and industry organisations across the globe have turned to the concept of clusters in recent years to stimulate urban and regional economic growth.

He says that the commission is using this approach to link entrepreneurs with government organisations and academics.

According to him, this approach allows different people, including those from the private sector, to develop a greater appreciation of the value of science, technology and innovation in fostering economic growth.

Turning to another of the groups of firms being supported, Bakari notes that "the furniture cluster needs to produce products that will compete with Chinese products".

So far, he says, this cluster produces school desks, chairs, office furniture and couches. "But we need them to produce the best not only for local use, but also for export," he explains.

This, Bakari says, is possible when furniture cluster members know what type of timber is most suited to which product, and what is the best technology to use.

Sustainable wood

He adds that some tree species, such as teak mahogany, are now becoming scarce in Tanzania because of environmental degradation and overexploitation for wood carving and furniture making.

For instance, Bakari says that both the woodcarving and furniture making clusters should explore working with university departments of forestry to find alternative woods that can be harvested sustainably. He says the two clusters should explore working with the University of Dar es Salaam and its faculty of forestry.

COSTECH's cluster development initiative begun as part of a project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency in African countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

The latest support is the second round of funding COSTECH has released as part of the initiative. Last year, it disbursed 40 million Tanzanian shillings (more than US$24,000) to five cluster groups on the island of Zanzibar.

The project will end this year, but the Tanzanian government through COSTECH has already integrated the initiative into a government programme with a start-up fund of 300 million Tanzanian shillings (around US$184,000).

George Achia currently holds an IDRC/SciDev.Net science journalism internship award.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

Saturday, May 04, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Did science sleep or did it get boosted further under the late President Chavez of Venezuela? The subject has become an issue for debates in Venezuela during the time of the election aimed at finding a replacement for the deceased Bolivarian patriot.

Now that the elections are over, with poll results showing a clear victory for the Bolivarian protégé of Chavez,  the polarization involving the scientific community may hopefully be settled a bit, as researchers should be getting down to brass tacks to produce more study findings for the developing country.

Broadly, interest in science had multiplied by several folds since Chavez began his presidency. There were only around 1500 scientists in Venezuela before the Chavez era, a number that zoomed to 10,250 during the incumbency of the pro-grassroots strong man.

For a country that has seen science as an exclusive domain of the academe, the Chavez science domain proved to be innovative in that science moved away from that exclusionary academic pursuit that preceded his time. This, to my mind, is a welcome development, that science should serve the broad interest and needs of the people in that it is able to generate technologies enabling better work procedures and productivity.

The issue at hand is shown in the report below.

[Manila, 03 May 2013]

After Chávez: the mixed legacy of revolutionary science

Andrea Small Carmona
There's one area in which all Venezuelan scientists agree: that the 14 years of Hugo Chávez's presidency changed the way that science was done in the Latin American nation. It is whether this change was for better or for worse that they disagree on.

As Venezuela heads to presidential elections on Sunday (14 April), following Chavez's death last month, its scientists are examining the legacy of his 'revolution' — politicising the sector and minimising the power of universities, which he perceived as serving the bourgeoisie, while boosting researcher numbers and funding.

·                       The death of Hugo Chávez in March has triggered presidential elections this week
·                       Commentators are looking back on his legacy in science, such as increased resources and tensions with universities
·                       Science has become politicised and the two camps continue to disagree on his impact
They are also pondering how a new president may — or may not — change the scientific environment in this socialist state.

Quantity over quality?

A significant increase in the number of scientists is often held up as one of the most important accomplishments of the Chávez era.

In February this year José Luis Berroterán, vice minister for work and science, announced that the country had reached a new milestone: there were now more than 10,250 researchers working in Venezuela. Before Chávez was elected in 1998, there were around 1,500.

"Chávez's policies attracted much more will to work in local science," says Palmira Guevara, a biology professor at the Central University of Venezuela.

The figure does not include the around 6,000 citizen scientists or "science followers — people that may have never had the chance to formally study at the university, but whose ideas are very valuable", she adds.

"That would make a total of nearly 16,000 people working in science now," she tells SciDev.Net. "We're proud to be breaking the paradigm of science coming exclusively from academia."

But Claudio Bifano, current president of the Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences of Venezuela, is not impressed.

He says that in 2009, the government replaced the two-decade-old system for evaluating scientists with one in which scientists were judged not only for their experience and studies, but also for their political views.

"For many of us the credentials of these new researchers are a very well kept secret and that's bad," he tells SciDev.Net.

"Experienced researchers have to fight fiercely for government funding while others might benefit only because of their pro-government political position. We don't consider it to be a transparent system," Bifano says.

Chávez's policies attracted local scientists and now there are over 16,000 working in Venezuela
A battle with universities

Other widely hailed successes of Chavez's policies were the creation of a dedicated science ministry in 1999, and 2005 legislation, known as the Organic Law on Science, Technology and Innovation (LOCTI), which regulates the national science goals and private sector financial contributions to research.

Jaime Requena, a local researcher who for the past ten years has been compiling a history of Venezuelan science, tells SciDev.Net that both moves were significant.

"[The law] worked incredibly well for some years. It forced private companies to choose research projects in universities and institutes and finance them directly, mostly suiting their own needs," Requena says.

"But in 2009, the government decided that they would receive the money directly and decide whose projects would be financed. By then the conflict between the government and universities for political reasons was already well known, and universities were basically excluded from financing," he says.

Chávez often accused universities of educating only the children of the bourgeoisie, and therefore not aligning with the goals of his socialist revolution. Instead, he preferred 'socialist science', which benefits ordinary people.

Since 2006, the government has granted public universities the same amount of money every year, without adjusting for high inflation rates and devaluations of the national currency, adding to tensions with universities.

"I predict that this war will inevitably kill research within five years, if it continues. [The government's] criteria for assigning resources is, overall, political and not scientific," says Requena.

A funding rollercoaster

But another camp of researchers praise what they perceive to have been a hike in funding in recent years. Miguel Alfonzo, an immunologist at the Central University of Venezuela, says the "official statistics show that there has never been a bigger investment in science and technology as during Chávez's rule".

He says investment has grown from 0.4 to 2.7 per cent of gross domestic product (around US$1.3 billion a year. "We don't understand how anybody can complain about it," he says.

But Requena says that nobody seems to know where this extra science funding is ending up — the funding freeze for universities means they have budget deficits, and outdated laboratories and equipment.

Critics also say that despite the government passing a requirement for scientists to publish in national journals, those same journals have not been funded for the past three years.

Alfonzo says funding for the journals has been suspended because the money was diverted into a new centralised digital publications system, which appears to have been delayed.

Not about the money?

When it comes to shortfalls, scientists critical of Chávez also cite the patent system as an example of bad administration.

"There hasn't been a single approved patent in Venezuela since 2002, although at least 50 requests have been filed," Ismardo Bonalde, head of the technology centre at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC), told SciDev.Net last year.

One of two satellites will help Venezuela deliver telemedicine services, however the satellites were not constructed locally
According to Bonalde, one of the main reasons for this is a lack of updated legislation: the current law on patents was approved by congress in 1956.

The past 14 years of government have also resulted in scientists leaving the country, apparently in search of better working conditions. Between January and May 2010, 173 professors quit Simón Bolívar University, and four hundred researchers left the Central University of Venezuela between 2009 and 2012. They did so because of poor salaries and benefits, says Bifano.

"There was a strong generation of scientists, from which we come. But we're getting old now, close to retirement and it's a problem not to have fresh motivated people to replace us," he says.

Bifano says that full-time researchers with a PhD and 12 years experience would earn around US$1,140 a month in Venezuela.

"In Colombia, our closest neighbours, a scientist with the same profile earns roughly US$4,500 a month. Add to this our social conditions: 30 per cent yearly inflation and high crime rates. Who would want to stay here?"

Guevara agrees that the salaries are low, but says they are justified: "The life of a full-time professor in Venezuela is completely flexible — that has to be considered part of the benefits we receive. The conditions might not be ideal, but we're working on it. I dare say there's no country in the world right now that offers better chances of personal and professional development to young people as Venezuela."

She adds that the aim of the revolution is to work for the people, not make money. She cites the two satellites Venezuela now has in orbit as such achievements, which will help deliver telemedicine services to communities.

But Requena counters that purchasing foreign technology is not the same as developing local science: "There was no Venezuelan research in the construction of the satellites. It was all done by China, from head to toe, with our money. It's the equivalent of buying a personal computer. It's yours, sure, but it doesn't mean you made it yourself."

An endless debate

Did Chávez improve science? There is no consensus, and his government allowed politicisation of a sector that some, such as Bifano, think must remain independent.

As the elections near, scientists have started looking to the future, and both main candidates have identified science as an areas to improve if they win.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition candidate, has offered to "build a modern science, technology and innovation system that will develop research, productivity and knowledge transfer".

Meanwhile, Nicolás Maduro, appointed by Chávez as his political successor, has proposed to create a national network of technological parks to develop science, technology and innovation.

"We would like to see a new government led by Capriles Randonski, working with transparency in the administration of funds," Bifano says. "Also, we would like to see a president who is more into supporting universities than fighting with them. That's vital for progress."

For Guevara, the situation is clear: "Our bet is for Nicolás Maduro to continue Chávez's legacy in science and technology. We think people will recognise that socialism is the best way to do things."

Whoever wins, the debate on the best way forward for Venezuelan science seems to be here to stay.