Proposal to research indigenous medicines

Traditional medicines that have been used by indigenous Australians for thousands of years may eventually be sold in pharmacies and health food shops around the world, under a plan by the complementary medicines industry.

The Complementary Health Care Council of Australia is seeking $1.3 million from the federal government for research into traditional medicines.

The council's executive director, Wendy Morrow, said research had demonstrated the effectiveness of traditional medicines from many countries, but very little work had been undertaken on Australian indigenous medicines.

''We are one of the very few major countries that doesn't actually respect its indigenous medicine the way that it should,'' Dr Morrow said.

In a budget submission to the federal government, the council said funding should be provided for a comprehensive stocktake of specific indigenous medicines in consultation with traditional owners. The work would build on research already undertaken at Macquarie University.

''This should then lead to a position where analysis of the key substances leads to pilot clinical trials being undertaken on those key substances,'' the submission said.


The council was also seeking government support for a project that aimed to bring evidence-based indigenous medicines to market with intellectual property of the products vested with traditional owners.

Manufacturers have also requested government support for the development of an industry plan and funds for clinical trials of complementary medicines.

Dr Morrow said the industry was only permitted to advertise products which were used for self-limiting, self-curable conditions such as coughs and colds.

She said research was needed into whether products assisted people to manage these conditions. ''The kind of research that industry needs is, 'If you take echinacea, it will or it won't reduce the time of your cold in half?' We need product-specific research for the kinds of products that we're permitted to talk about.''

The Australian complementary medicines industry generates $2.3 billion in revenue each year and employs 5000 people in manufacturing jobs.