Ethnic or cultural diversity has become an important issue in North American society over the past several years, not only in recognition of its expansion, but according the respect due these unique segments of our population. In all aspects of life, it should be our goal to understand each other’s traditions and beliefs so that we may appreciate the richness which cultural diversity offers. Those in medicine are no exception. In fact, medicine has an even greater responsibility for understanding diversity as all humans fall under its purview. The students we train today will be encountering patient populations far different from those seen even 10 years ago. Many of these patients, following their cultural heritage, will adhere to medicinal practices which have been used for centuries. Still other segments of our population, following the popular New Age philosophies, may also seek these ancient cures. Certainly, we as faculty cannot shoulder the entire burden for introducing our students to this concept of population diversity, although we can put cultural beliefs regarding medicine into perspective.
But what if those human beliefs conflict with the greater issue of bio-diversity? Our column this time addresses the problem of traditional medicines derived from endangered wildlife (illegal in most countries of the world) and calls for the development and culturally sensitive use of alternate substances. The illegal trade in endangered species has long been of concern to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and we are pleased to have Ms. Ginette Hemley, Director of WWF’s trade monitoring division – TRAFFIC USA, and Dr. Kurt Johnson, wildlife consultant, describe the extent of this conflict as it relates to North America. Ms. Hemley and her staff have traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia and the Orient, frequently at risk to their personal safety, to document the routes of this lucrative illegal trade. Dr. Johnson is a recognized authority in the field of Asian wildlife conservation. Together, our authors present the challenge that medical faculty must be informed, and inform others, of the issues concerning both conservation and cultural diversity.