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CAB Review

Traditional knowledge systems and the role of traditional medicine in Jamaica.


Jamaica's national motto 'Out of Many, One People' reflects the country's multiracial past and the historic and ongoing influences that many cultures have had on the country's traditional knowledge systems (TKS) and traditional medicine (TM). This review explores Jamaican TKS and TM, from the earliest indigenous peoples to their use today. Historically, a significant proportion of the Jamaican population has relied on different forms of TM, and today 73% of Jamaicans self-medicate with plant-based medicines on a regular basis. Modern Jamaica effectively has a spectrum of healthcare provision operating between two healthcare systems, western biomedicine and TM, although the latter is often dismissed as lacking western scientific rigour. Crucial to the development of TKS and TM has been the island's abundant flora, including endemic, native and introduced plants, giving rise to a uniquely Jamaican vegetation. Following a declining oral tradition of transmission, Jamaican TKS and TM also face a concurrent loss of biological diversity that forms an indispensable constituent of these systems, making their conservation and protection a priority. Jamaica is poised to develop a natural health products' industry with the potential to contribute to national growth and development. However, for such development to flourish on an equitable basis across Jamaican society requires recognition of TKS, and legislation that protects TKS and the holders of TKS and guarantees fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the commercial use of these knowledge systems. At a time when the rights of indigenous peoples internationally are increasingly recognized, it is also important for Afro-descendant communities in the Caribbean and Latin America to achieve better recognition and to be incorporated into the dialogue on traditional, local and indigenous knowledge systems and their contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.