UK helping indigenous communities protect ancient traditional medicine

UK helping indigenous communities protect ancient traditional medicine
© iStock-DipakShelare

A UK project is helping indigenous communities in Petén, Guatemala, to protect and use their ancient, traditional medicine.

The Green Health project (Darwin initiative) is researching the medical use of biodiversity based on indigenous healthcare practices in a bid to develop mechanisms that will help to protect this knowledge, as well as to consider how to use the knowledge to increase the health and prosperity of less favoured groups in Guatemala.

Partners of the project include the University College London (UCL), Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), and the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP). The project initially received funding of more than three million quetzals (~£0.28m) for three years and has recently received an extra allocation of 500,000 quetzals (~£46,882.54) to help fight the impact of COVID-19 and support communities to overcome the economic hurdles associated with it. Further funding will help the Mayan Council of Elders to acquire the tools to protect many species that are at risk due to habitat loss and degradation.

Supporting indigenous communities

The British Ambassador in Guatemala, Nick Whittingham, met with the Mayan Council of Indigenous Spiritual Leaders of the Southern Peten, ACGERS, who are using the benefits of their ancient traditional medicine.

The project has highlighted how its research will advance key knowledge on medicinal plants of the Mesoamerican region, supporting policy development towards models for inclusive health and improving Universal Health Coverage.

In its paper published in Frontiers, it states: ‘According to De Sousa (2010) and Laurell (2010) the neglected consideration of emic epistemologies in the shaping of public health policies should be contrasted with a turn toward an “ecology of knowledge-systems.” This perspective includes traditional medicine, particularly herbal medicine, which has been recognised as playing a key role toward providing culturally pertinent and accessible health coverage (Rocha-Buelvas, 2017) and is in line with the WHO’s guidelines, which pin-point acceptability as a factor fostering increased access to health provision services in diverse cultural settings (WHO, 2013).’

The project will also help villagers to obtain additional income by gathering seeds of local species through forest transect walks; planting and nurturing of seeds in a local ethnobotany garden; and documenting traditional medicine used for respiratory syndromes. The project hopes this will create effective synergies between urgent income generation and participatory research to understand the role of traditional Q’eqchi’ knowledge in biodiversity use for medicinal as well as food security strategies.

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