Nepal losing patent right on herbal medicine: Experts

KATHMANDU: Nepal is losing patent rights of ayurvedic plants thanks largely to the government's continuous apathy and neglect toward preserving traditional herbal medicines.

"The government is not serious about conserving ayurvedic plants as well as securing their patent right," said Dr Rishi Ram Koirala, chairperson, Ayurveda Doctors Association-Nepal.

"Ayurvedic plants and products are our intellectual property and the use of technology and innovation related to these plants should belong to us," he said.

Koirala said that Nepal lacks a policy for protection, preservation, development and commercialisation of indigenous knowledge on herbal resources.

Talking to The Himalayan Times today, he urged the government to pay serious heed towards protecting the patent rights of such resources.

He also alleged that Nepal's herbal resources and indigenous knowledge are being threatened by piracy.

"The government is not equipped to protect and prevent piracy of indegenous knowledge and resources," Koirala bemoaned.

He claimed that an estimated 140 indigenous medicinal herbs have already been captured by foreign medical companies. He said that Nepal ranks 25th in the world in terms of biodiversity.

According to Koirala, there are about 264 species of indegenous herbal plants and 3,500 other kinds of herbal plants of medicinal values available in Nepal.

Of those captured by foreign companies are Silajit, turmeric, Neem, Amala and Kalogeera, according to Koirala.

Meanwhile, Dr Thakur Raj Adhikari, Director at the Department of Ayurveda (DoA), Ministry of Health and Population, acknowledged that there is a dearth of specific policies and regulation concerning preservation and protection of indigenous medicines.

He admitted that the absence of a specific policy has indeed heightened the threats of illegal trade in indegenous medicines.

However, he clarified that the protection of these plants were not under the sole responsibility of DoA. "There is a lack of cooperation cooperation and coordination among the concern ministries, for the protection of promotion of these species," he added.

Meantime, Annapurna Das, spokesperson for the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation said the responsibility lies with the DoA and Singha Durbar Baidhya Khana Development Committee for the protection and preservation of those resources.

The work of patenting has now fallen through for want of an 'genetic resource bill' which is awaiting the Cabinet's endorsement.

When passed, the bill is expected to make it easier for importing and exporting the herbal medicines.