Pharmaceutical CompaniesBiopiracy, the act of expropriating a resource from a foreign land and profiting from it, has been a normal practice for pharmaceutical companies and governments for many years. Medicinal compounds with vital medicinal benefits stole from indigenous and impoverished areas without reparations/royalties in exchange. Invasive countries reap millions of dollars from biopiracy. In the process, they strip irreplaceable compounds from populations that fiercely depend on them. Many of these poorer countries lack the financial strength to fund analysis of plants for medicinal value. This analysis can widen the research gap between developing countries and the industrialized world even further. In an effort to reconcile these past injustices and inequalities, some pharmaceutical companies and research institutes have pledged funding to facilitate the growth of the medicinal drug industry in indigenous areas.

Berkeley and Samoa

In 2004, the University of California at Berkeley struck a deal with the government of Samoa, a small Pacific Ocean island nation. The university will share royalties from the highly revolutionary and precious compound prostratin, native to the Samoan mamala trees. It was discovered the drug was effective in treating HIV/AIDS by flushing the virus out of reservoirs in the body. The university pledged to equally split all revenues generated from the drug. It was used commonly on the island to treat hepatitis. After isolating the genes responsible for producing the drug in the tree, the researchers were able to carry out microbial production.

National Cancer Institute and Samoa

Three years prior, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) issued a license to the AIDS Research Alliance (ARA) to conduct research on the drug prostratin. The NCI exclusively patented this. The methodology behind the research is significantly different from Berkeley’s, as it does not rely on gene sequencing. The percentage of total royalties returned to the island is 20%. This is much lower than the charitable cut Berkeley would offer in the future.

However, this partnership was highly influential in staging the blueprint for American companies to share their copious wealth with the lands they took from. Much of the revenue returning to Samoa continues to be funneled into villages. In addition, it provides healers on the island with more sophisticated equipment and labs. In congruence with the deal, there will be over $500,000 of combined value to the construct water tanks, a medical clinic, three schools, a trail system and a tourist walkway from which the village would keep all revenue.

Merck & Co. and Costa Rica

In 1991, Merck & Co. is one of the pharmaceutical companies that sought to turn obscure compounds into gainful products in the agriculture and pharmaceutical markets. It extended a two-year deal to the nonprofit biodiversity institute in Costa Rica INBio. This entailed the exchange of plant and insect samples for $1 million. This was a mutually beneficial investment. Costa Rica was looking for donors in the private sector to help preserve its tropical and sub-tropical forests. There are ethical concerns surrounding the usage of said investment in building more commercially viable tourist attractions instead of natural preserves. However, regardless of Costa Rica’s money management, the company’s investment was nothing short of magnanimous.

ICBG and Coiba

The island of Coiba, 12 miles off the coast of Panama, was designated as a national park in 1991. It drew much interest in its coral reefs in 2005 when scientific research suggested that they contained an abundance of new species with medicinal and commercial potential. By far, the most promising discovery was octocoral, from which anti-malarial properties can be extracted. Following these exciting developments, the International Co-Operative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) invested millions in building scientific infrastructure on the mainland of Panama. For instance, testing and processing sites for potential medicinal compounds.

The collaboration pledged to distill at least half of all profits into trust funds. The trust funds design to protect Coiba from internal and external environmental hazards. The profit will also go to the institutions that aided the project. A biological research station was built on the island. The security systems programmed will eradicate colonists and fisherman that could disrupt the ecosystem. ICBG has been successful in identifying and analyzing medicinal compounds in many other countries including Suriname, Vietnam and Madagascar.

These examples of corporations reconciling past exploitation of resources are certainly worth celebrating. However, there is work left to do. Pharmaceutical companies fund indigenous communities and spurring growth of their medicinal industries is still the minority. There is damage that has been left unrectified. These communities rely heavily on the resources insular to their area and supported by a well-funded and functioning infrastructure. In the fight to end global poverty, one of the first places to start is in the coniferous islands and peninsulas. It was once abundant in medicinal compounds but has since been plundered. It is important that the people in these areas can live healthy lives and benefit from the rich resources native to their land.

Camden Gilreath
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health Services In IndiaThe vicious cycle of poverty and mental illness is a problem worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, mental illness is twice as prevalent among the poor than among the rich. Not only does mental illness put someone more at risk for poverty, but the insecurity of day to day life in poverty can also exacerbate mental health concerns. Indigenous communities, routinely separated from their land, traditions and support networks by discriminatory government policies, struggle with both poverty and mental health concerns at particularly high rates, according to the United Nations.

Mental Health Services In India: A Holistic Model for Indigenous Communities

One way of addressing the cycle of poverty and mental health concerns in indigenous communities is a holistic model that draws both from community traditions as well as biomedical and psychological care paradigms. Such an approach is most effective when it treats the community members as experts on their own needs.

Hailey Shapiro ‘22, a Cornell student, spent a semester abroad in Kotagari, India, learning about public health. While she had to leave India early due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she completed her literature review about holistic mental healthcare for indigenous communities in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve region of Southern India from her home in California. Shapiro spoke to The Borgen Project about her research on the mental health and well-being issues faced by the indigenous Adivasi people in India, as well as the strengths and limitations of different strategies developed to address these issues.

“Learning from local scholars and community members was vital research. Programs to support community wellness are never a one-size-fits all, because all communities have unique resources and challenges,” Shapiro said.

The Link Between Communal Traditions and Well-Being

Adivasi communities in India have long faced disruptions to traditional ways of life. The British colonial government rarely recognized their communal land ownership traditions, which were central to traditional practices of hunting, gathering and practicing shifting cultivation. The Indian government has designated many of the forests they traditionally hunted, gathered and farmed as protected land, which means the Adivasi are still barred from using the land to feed themselves. Most Adivasi now work as day laborers for agricultural plantations and government construction programs.

Community cohesion that provided essential social support for psychological well-being in earlier times has grown weaker as the Adivasi no longer hunt or farm together as frequently and are displaced from their land. The widespread land loss not only prevents the Adivasi from supporting themselves in traditional ways, but it also causes many youths to leave the community in order to find work and has exacerbated the issues of food insecurity and poverty.

These disruptions to community support systems have caused or exacerbated stress for many community members. However, India’s main mental health program, the District Mental Health Policy, does not collaborate with non-clinical agencies to address psycho-social factors.

Community Outreach, Mental Health Services in India and Medicalization

While psychiatric medications have been found to be an effective strategy to assist those struggling with mental health concerns, The Keystone Foundation recognizes that a holistic approach can make psychiatric strategies more effective. The Keystone Foundation trains community health workers to assist with the delivery of mental health services; the organization also works with the family and friends of patients to help patients adhere to medications.

Another organization providing mental health services in India within the context of the community it serves is The Banyan, a mental healthcare nonprofit. The Banyan started as a homeless shelter and became a mental health service provider that focuses on the needs of mentally ill women in Chennai, India. The Banyan uses a variety of strategies including in-patient and outpatient care as well as community outreach and aid to those coping with both mental health struggles and poverty. Through frequent surveys, they identified that their clients wanted to stay in their homes and that facilitating work opportunities and providing healthcare in more remote areas could help make that goal possible.

According to Shapiro’s literature review, learning from the example of The Keystone Foundation, The Banyan and other providers of holistic care could lead to better mental healthcare outcomes for indigenous communities and other marginalized groups.

“We need a holistic approach to community mental health that responds to communities’ unique challenges using communities’ unique resources,” said Shapiro. “According to my research, we can learn what factors are most important to address by incorporating communities’ voices into the intervention decision-making process.”

– Tamara Kamis
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous communities make up 12.6 percent of Mexico’s total population. Despite their significant numbers, this population faces much higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes and lower life expectancies than their non-indigenous counterparts. As of 2015, 80.6 percent of indigenous peoples in Mexico lived in extreme poverty, and as a result, indigenous education in Mexico suffers.

Five Facts About Indigenous Education in Mexico

  1. Compared to national averages and non-indigenous outcomes, indigenous children in Mexico are severely disadvantaged. Only 27 percent of indigenous children in Mexico graduate from high school. The national illiteracy rate is 8.4 percent, but the illiteracy rate among indigenous peoples is 44 percent. Indigenous children are more likely than non-indigenous children to drop out of school, and indigenous girls are especially at risk of not completing their education.
  2. Some of the major obstacles to indigenous education in Mexico are the lack of schools in rural areas (where indigenous peoples are more likely to live), lower-quality teachers or teachers who reach burnout and overall poorer academic performance (measured by test scores and other achievements) due to the language barrier. Spanish is the typical language of instruction in schools in Mexico, despite the fact that it is often a second (or even third) language for indigenous children.
  3. The approach to indigenous education in Mexico has evolved over time. In 1978, Mexico created a General Department of Indigenous Education. In the 1980s, the general philosophy of indigenous education was “bilingual and bicultural.” However, this was only implemented in a handful of pilot programs and the development of primers in 40 of the most common indigenous languages. In the 1990s, the philosophy shifted to “bilingual and ” In 2001, the Federal Ministry of Education created a branch called Coordination in Intercultural Bilingual Education. Two laws have also enshrined the right to education for indigenous peoples – the Amendment on Indigenous Rights (2001) and the General Law on the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2003).
  4. The Compensatory Education Project, partnered with the World Bank, has supported the expansion of CONAFE (the National Council for Educational Development). CONAFE is at the forefront of improving indigenous education in Mexico. It provides educational services in rural areas and in indigenous communities. The expansion of CONAFE focuses specifically on its early child development programs, its school-based management programs and providing traveling tutors to schools with the lowest levels of academic performance.
  5. The southern state of Chiapas has the largest indigenous population in Mexico. Chiapas has become a success story in the realm of educational attainment for Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. It adopted the Chiapas-U.N. Agenda, which mandated that its social policies be guided by the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. As a result, between 2008 and 2010 Chiapas saw an increase in its literacy rates and enrollment rates. According to the UNDP, this policy change “provides a clear example that change is possible if governments, civil society and people are willing to embrace it.”

If the globe and Mexico continue such positive efforts, the indigenous nation of Mexico should see even more of an increase of educational success stories, services, and overall improvement of indigenous education.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Fourth World Love
Fourth World Love defines the term “fourth world” as being exotic civilizations existing just beyond third world communities. Fourth World communities are usually located in obscure regions not typically visited by other people. These communities already have a set infrastructure they live by, but Fourth World Love works to help them keep up these unique infrastructures by supplying them with resources and innovative ideas and technologies.


Fourth World Love: Unique Development


The Fourth World Love organization was started by Misty Tosh and Lisa Colangelo who decided to create the organization in 2008 after filming a television show for the Travel Channel in Yelapa, Mexico. While there, they met people from a fourth world village who charmed them with their kindness and simplistic lifestyle. While filming, they noticed a crucial issue with their village; while they knew they had an established lifestyle, they realized they were not utilizing their resources to the best of their abilities. Tosh and Colangelo sought to help these people without tarnishing their beliefs.

Fourth World Love serves as a middleman for indigenous villages. They connect them with the resources and technology needed for villages to thrive without the technology conflicting with their lifestyles.

The members of Fourth World Love have worked on a variety of projects ranging from raising money through recycling to helping improve educational facilities in indigenous villages. One project raised enough money to provide a sanitation system in a village in Sembalum East Lombok Regency, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.

The sanitation system will give the village a public toilet that will help with waste management, and Fourth World Love will create the toilet out of recycled products. The Sanitation System will also provide residents with clean water for proper hygiene.

Another project enacted by Fourth World Love allowed members from their Community Development Center to build and expand schools in indigenous villages in Sembalun. With donations, they were able to add libraries, multiple classrooms and a common area for students to study and hang out in.

Volunteers for Fourth World Love help out with the Community Development Center in preparing villages for possible tourism, teaching them English and working on organic farms. Helping villagers start up their own businesses, working with the elderly and playing with children are also among the tasks completed by volunteers. Tosh and Colangelo, along with many volunteers, have traveled to multiple villages and continue to help them strive and be successful, and Fourth World Love will continue to empower communities through grassroots projects.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Fly For Good, Fourth World Love, Matador Network
Photo: Matador Network

The National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama, or COONAPIP, is rallying for support to protect land rights, claiming the national government has failed to do so. “Our government has committed sins of omission as well as commission, showing great lack of concern about the wellbeing of indigenous peoples,” said Betanio Chiquidama, President of COONAPIP.

The UN is also calling on the government to expand and protect land rights. “The development of large investment projects in indigenous territories of Panama has been the subject of numerous allegations of violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, especially in recent years,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya.

Land in Panama has been increasingly used-up by third parties, illegal loggers and miners. The misuse of indigenous land is not only making life difficult for people, but also puts Panama’s rainforests in jeopardy. In the past 5 years, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources has escalated on indigenous territories, which include more than half of Panama’s old-growth forests. The fight for indigenous peoples to hold onto their land has resulted in nine deaths in standoffs with the police in a two year span.

Panama’s indigenous groups comprise 10 percent of the total population, and most remain largely autonomous in the governance of their preserves, called comarcas. However, the strong interest in natural resources on the preserves is weakening the indigenous communities’ ability to protect their land. Some parts of the comarcas are not even on the map, which makes it hard for indigenous peoples to claim the land is theirs. Another problem is that the government has stopped designating comarcas in the 1990s, leaving nearly 20 indigenous communities without rights to their land. They had to lobby hard for the government to recognize just two more preserves, which are smaller than those established two decades ago.

Illegal logging, mining, and dam construction occurs on lands which are not clearly designated. The Program Director of Rainforest Foundation U.S., Christine Halvorson says, “there’s no good state presence, so it’s a little bit of a Wild West.” Indigenous people have even been bribed by companies with gifts of money and food to give their signatures in support of mining operations on land owned by their community, according to a 2011 report on indigenous experiences with mining in Panama.

COONAPIP is fighting for the voices from the comarcas to be heard by the decision makers in government, who continue to sell their land to international investors without including indigenous peoples. “They are making deals for investments on our land and we know nothing about it until the bulldozer arrives,” said Williams Barrigón Dogirama, former president of COONAPIP.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, UN News
Photo: Take Part